The Daily Grind.

Do you hang out in the Grind a lot?

Yeah, I do come to the Grind a lot.

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

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

Do you still work here?

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

Tell me about Copenhagen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What made you stay another year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! How is being a TA for that?

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

Diversity with Inclusion.

Can you tell me about yourself and your story?

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned from your different roles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

What conversations have really made you think?

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

 What are you grateful for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Learning and growing.

What year are you here?

I’m a junior.

What book were you reading?

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

What is it about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, I really like your bracelet!

Thank you.

Did somebody make that for you?

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

That’s my favorite number as well!

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

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

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

Do you think you’ll continue to wear it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

C: Would you consider yourself more talkative?

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

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

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

C: Very different from the West Coast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C: Thank you so much.

S: Yeah, thank you for talking with us.

 

Kindness, Mercy, Justice

How has your day been?

Pretty good.

What have you been doing?

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

Do you like your Civil and Political liberties class?

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

Discourse for the sake of discourse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think you only feel more anger from arguing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you have to excuse yourself from class?

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

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

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

Do you do this simply because you want to learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do remember that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To ‘Create Lasting Monuments’ with Others

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Doubting to Doing

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

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

That sounds really cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Applying Knowledge to Serve

What is an activity or an extracurricular that you’ve been involved in that has been particularly meaningful to you?

I’ve done a lot over the time that I’ve been here, but the one thing that has been the most consistent is my involvement with Baptist Campus Ministries. I came to school not expecting to be in a campus ministry, but a friend convinced me to go. It’s been a really interesting space for me to grow, because I come from a very conservative family. There was a disjunction for me because I didn’t grow up believing in the same sorts of things that my parents and my church supported. Coming into a space that was more inclusive was very meaningful, but also being able to be a part of that and come to terms with a lot of negative feelings I still had towards the church has been interesting. I’ve also been a small group Bible study leader for the past two years. I’ve tailored our discussions to be about how we can talk about the church in a more critical light to make it a more inclusive space for people of different sexualities, gender identities, and things like that.

How has your personal perception of religion changed as a result of your involvement with the campus ministry?

I definitely came into college as an atheist, but through Baptist Campus Ministries I’ve found a renewed faith in some form of a higher power. My spirituality is very different than a lot of Baptists. I think that most people who are involved in campus ministries have a very well-formed, concrete idea of their beliefs. But for me, I had to reconnect with religion through thinking about how I can use this framework of Christianity and my understanding of Jesus to better emphasize love and compassion and care for others in a way that makes sense to me.

What are your thoughts on how religious organizations on campus can progress and change for the better – do you have any specific ideas about that?

Definitely – something that has been important to me is bridging the gap between the rest of campus and the campus ministries because I think we can tend to be very insular and isolated from the rest of campus. I’ve noticed that people within campus ministries tend to only hang out with other people in the campus ministries, and it’s seen as almost negative to be a part of other things. There’s a certain level of worldliness that this ought to take precedence. But I think Christians have a calling to go out into the world and seek out people that are different from them and to have an exchange of viewpoints. If we’re having these exchanges, then maybe I can show you Jesus through my experiences and then through listening to others, I can better understand perspectives that are different from my own. I’ve tried to bring people that aren’t associated with campus ministries into our discussions and then to bring people in campus ministries outside of their bubbles. It’s really been my goal to combine those two worlds to form a more inclusive and understanding community. In particular, my small group this year focused on science and religion, and how science and Christianity often conflict. We’ve been exploring how that’s such a false dichotomy – you can believe in a higher power and faith, but you can also believe in the Big Bang and physics. We also talked about climate change earlier in the year, and how that’s so important in the discussion of communities that are more affected by climate change in relation to environmental racism. There’s a Christian moral imperative to address that. So again, just bridging the gap between this bubble that Christians often live in and the rest of the world has been really valuable to me.

The individual that nominated you for Women of William & Mary also mentioned your involvement in Vox: Planned Parenthood Generation Action. In what ways has your faith contributed to or possibly conflicted with that?

I haven’t been as involved in Vox this year as previous years, but in previous years I’ve tried to be an advocate for people that are pro-choice. That definitely conflicts with the typical views of the church and church doctrine. I actually had the chance to speak at a Vox event about being religious and pro-choice, and I think again it comes down to having a social justice mindset. All Christians are called to love others, and I think there’s nothing loving about deciding that people can’t make choices about their own bodies. It’s been an interesting tension because a lot of people in campus ministries don’t have that same mindset as me. But at the same time, there’s still been a space for me to share different viewpoints with those in the campus ministries, and I’ve really appreciated getting to talk about Vox in our large group meetings. If we can start a dialogue, we’ll be more likely to get things done and find commonalities. Pro-choice or not, we can agree that we want less people to have abortions. But that’s not the narrative that people who are pro-life may not acknowledge about people who are pro-choice. But when we start conversations and both sides try to understand the other more, there’s a greater chance for compromise. This year I’ve been able to start a community within my small group where we specifically talk about issues that Christians don’t typically like to talk about, like abortion, sex, and what’s it like to be in the LGBT community and the church. It’s an open space for conversation, its judgment-free, and we’ll all still care about each other at the end of the day.

Is your small group only female?

No, although I would say Baptist Campus Ministries as a whole has more girls in it, but there are a few girls in my small group.

That’s interesting, because I know that some other religious organizations on campus specifically separate their small groups by gender. I’d imagine that it’s actually really productive to have both included because it provides an opportunity for more perspectives to be shared.

Definitely, and I’ve been aggressively against having specific male and female small groups in Baptist Campus Ministries, just because I think that when you really get down to it, the experiences of men and women aren’t all that different.

Another aspect that I remember from your nomination is the person stating that anyone can study or talk about doing something, but you would be the one to actually step up and directly face an issue. Why do you think you choose to be a participant rather than just an observer?

Particularly at William & Mary, I think we have a tendency to lean towards academia, but that isn’t necessarily where my strengths lie. It’s great to talk about issues, but I like to figure out what the actual impact of our words are. Everything in theory is only useful for its practical value. I want to explore what we can do with information and how we can take actions that will actually invoke change in communities. At the end of the day, my mindset is “can I do something with my life that improves the lives of others?” Although I think academia and the pursuit of knowledge are incredibly worthwhile, what is knowledge if you’re not using for the benefit of someone else? I think that people in academics and William & Mary students have a responsibility to acknowledge that they get to go to college and should explore how they can use the things they learn to impact others.
I grew up in a very rural community, and quite frankly, going to college was not the norm or the expectation for people from my area. I’m a first generation college student, and I think maybe twenty to thirty people, out of my graduating class of one hundred and forty people, went on to a four year college. I grew up around people who did not have access to knowledge, and who were stuck in a lot of cycles of poverty, addition, poor healthcare, and all these negative things. There’s this whole other realm of people who are talking about these issues that people face, but aren’t making any attempts to address them. As people of privilege, we have a moral imperative to do things for other people who are in need. So I think that’s been what drives me to want to take direct action within communities, specifically bridging the gap between the bubble of William & Mary and the broader community.

How has that mindset been apparent in your involvement with Greater City Williamsburg?

I was involved with Greater City from my sophomore year to my junior year. We know that poverty in Williamsburg is a big deal, but Greater City tried to bridge the gap between what we know and what we’re doing. I think Greater City does a really good job of getting into communities, talking to people, feeding people, fostering friendships, and creating a space where students can create relationships with people that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I think the median family income of William & Mary students is something like $75,000, and that’s insane because so many people in Williamsburg are living below the poverty line. So, I really appreciate the work that Greater City does in bridging the gap between what we know and what we can do for people.

There were so many activities that were listed in your nomination application, and I feel like that really speaks to your commitment to community development.

For sure, those activities have made my time at William & Mary so meaningful – Baptist Campus Ministries, Vox, Greater City, and then I also work for AidData, Virginia Institute for Marine Science, and I’ve been an RA.

One final question that we’ve wanted to ask all of our Women of William & Mary nominees is, what’s a piece of advice that you would give to other female students?

I think what a lot of William & Mary students struggle with is being confident. So I would say, if you’re doing what you love, then you’re doing something worthwhile. Know that you can do it, whatever it is. If you love it, do it even if it’s hard and even if it seems like it’s not worthwhile at times. You should never feel like you have to apologize for who you are or how you interact with the world. I’m thinking in particular of a friend of mine that I’ve been getting to know better recently. She always apologizes for things, and I just want to tell her that I can see how well she’s doing and that she doesn’t have to be sorry for trying. I think we all get to William & Mary and realize that there’s a lot of smart people here, and so we feel the need to apologize for not being good at everything. But no, you’re doing amazing, and the people around you here are happy to help you realize that.

Be Curious, Speak Up

Will you please introduce yourself and just tell me a little about yourself?

I am Robin McCall, and I have been teaching here since 2013 NTE (non-tenure eligible). And I teach Classical Hebrew and the Israelite Religion. I also teach a freshman seminar called “Sympathy for the Devil,” a sort of history about Satan and the development of the figure. This seminar is fun, and I really do love teaching that class. I am from Virginia, grew up in Richmond, and did my undergraduate work at UVA.

I have a twin sister that goes to UVA, so I definitely understand the rivalry that goes on between William and Mary and UVA, but of course, I do not hate UVA as much as other people.

So yeah, my area of specialty is the Hebrew Bible.

More along the lines of the Torah?

Yes. the whole Old Testament.

What made you get into teaching the Hebrew Bible?

That is a good question. I have had a kind of circuitous path. When I went to college [at UVA], I went in expecting to go into clinical psychology. [laughing] It was a terrible fit, honestly. I was pre-med for a year and did most of my pre-med courses in a year and then realized that I really do hate science. I was really bad at it even though I had already completed most of my major requirements. After finishing undergrad, I went to seminary to study church music. I have always been a musician.

Did you go to Union [Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia]?

I went across the street to Baptist Theological Seminary. I did take a lot of course at Union, though so I understand the connection.

I am from Richmond so whenever I hear an individual going to seminary, I immediately think of Union.

I loved [seminary]. It was a lot of fun, especially after suffering through pre-med in undergrad. While I was there, I had to take a class on the Old Testament, and Hebrew, and as it turned out, I absolutely loved it. I felt like all the secrets of the universe were being revealed and that I was seeing the world in whole new ways. It was amazing. So, I was a minister of music for three years while I was in seminary and then I went on to complete my PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary in that field.

I am basing this off of your seminary work, but are you Baptist?

I was, but I wouldn’t necessarily identify as Baptist now. I would identify more along the lines of nondenominational. Still Christian, but less practicing than I used to be. I think this happens a lot to people who work outside of their particular field. I have seriously thought of converting to Judaism many times, especially given my course of study. I still hold a messianic faith in Jesus, but my Christianity is heavily influenced by Judaism.

Has faith been a big part of your life?

It has. My parents were very active in Church. I was one of those Baptist kids who ran into Church as soon as the doors were open. And I never thought that I would go working in the field of religion. I can remember very specifically when I was in junior high school thinking that the Bible was unutterably boring and dull.

Oh boy. That is a hot take especially coming from a Southern Baptist.

[Laughing] You are not allowed to have that feeling, even growing up in Richmond. But it was true, and I did think that. When I was at UVA, I was a religion minor, and I actively avoided taking Biblical studies because I thought that the Bible was boring. And then I went to Seminary, and there they taught me how wrong I was for thinking that about the Bible. It was completely awesome and really fascinating, having your assumptions about the Bible radically changed. I think what really excited was that once you get into the academic study of religion, you are free to ask questions that you cannot ask in a denominational setting. The church and the school offer completely separate things. And so, when you are in the Church, there are questions that they discourage you from asking. Whereas with the School, they are like “those are the questions that you should be asking.” And that to me was very freeing. I really loved that. And the whole idea of the Hebrew Bible and the meaning of the name “Israel” is “wrestling with God.” That idea of wrestling with the text and wrestling with God is at the heart of what the Hebrew Bible is about.

Has this notion of “wrestling with God” defined your idea of faith?

It does. Asking questions and as a person of faith, having the belief that God is big enough and willing to field those questions.

I am Presbyterian, so I understand some of those feelings that you have felt and are currently feeling. There are questions that I feel like I cannot broach and touch upon even as a member of the Presbyterian Church. However, being a member of Intervarsity on campus gives me the opportunity to raise these questions that I feel like I cannot ask. Similar to what you were saying, faith evolves and mine certainly has over the past couple of years here on this campus and is still continuing to this day.

I wholeheartedly agree that the more ways that human beings experience God the better since we are able to see how other traditions understand God.

Does your idea of faith play a role in how you teach?

In a way it does. For one thing, I am keenly aware that I come from a Christian background, and I teach texts that belong to Christians yet belong to Jews a bit more or first in a sense. There is a matter of reverence and gratitude for being able to step into this arena of faith and have something to say about these texts. I am always trying to retain a sense of humility since I understand that these are not my texts to walk all over and give my own interpretation on the matter.

Especially with the Torah and the Bible, I understand what you mean.

And the language in those two separate texts have two completely different meanings depending on your interpretative context. For example, you can look at one of the texts that comes up all the time in my Freshman seminar, the text of Isaiah 14. “How we have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!” In the Christian tradition, this means the fall the Lucifer, which is something that you will ever going to find in a Post-Biblical Christian context. In my field of study, no Israelite or Jew would interpret Isaiah 14 in this Christian context. How you read these texts plays a role in your own interpretive context. That critical understanding plays a role in how I teach since you have to have an awareness on the way that you read these texts. And because I was in grad school for a long time and did a lot of teaching as a graduate student in a Seminary context, I am sensitive to how disruptive it can be for people of faith particularly Christians, who are coming into this field of academic study of the Hebrew Bible experiencing some super weird ideas for the first time. What I mean by that is the undermining of assumptions that they have held for a long time.

Is that a struggle for the religious studies department here at WM since y’all try to have people understand faith but not try to undermine their own faith?

Yes! Exactly! That is definitely a big part of religious studies. I often encounter the idea from students that as an academic, I want to undermine their faith — that in order to be a good scholar of religion, you have to be an atheist, which is completely wrong. There are certainly many excellent atheist scholars of religion. But you can be both a religious scholar and a person of faith. I am often about trying to explain to students who are already practicing Christians or Jews how I am here to open up your faith and make it bigger. And if you have faith, I want you to not hide from any questions that you might want to ask because your faith might fall apart. How can I help you approach these texts and ask questions of these texts in ways that do not close these doors but rather open those doors and enrich what you personally believe?

What was the hardest thing that you have encountered as a professor? Has a student come to you wondering about what they believe and whether God is even real?

I have experienced those conversations. I kinda enjoy those conversations. I do not believe that these conversations are necessarily hard because I believe that we all at some point are going to hit that wall.

Some earlier on than others?

Yeah. This is in large part what college is for since you are figuring out what your role is in the world and how you are perhaps different from your parents or from people who have influenced your identity through your life and will continue to do so. But you are beginning to figure out the person you want to be, and this [questioning of faith] is a huge part of the process. Faith or lack of faith, since I have some students who come in as atheists and struggle with these texts from a very different position, are parts of your identity. I want to make [the academic student of religion] something fun to explore. It is supposed to be an adventure and [you should] not be afraid of it because this is wonderful, and I love what I do. It does not have to be a bad thing at all. I generally find that the academic study of religion will get people more interested in finding out their roots. They love [finding out] where did [they] come [from] and what have people before me believed in and how do I fit into [these beliefs]. This may means letting go of some things, but it may also mean finding deep value in things that you didn’t expect to find deep value in.

That is really deep. Being a person of faith myself, I have never really talked to a religious studies scholar considering that I have talked to political theorists and literature scholars. I think coming to talk with someone who also believes in the same faith as I do is eye-opening since even though we may not see eye to eye on some aspects of Christianity, we still believe in the same God.

I do believe that. We as Christians have a changing place in this world and I think that to some extent that the academic study of religion can offer the world since the academic study of religion is different than faith-based study of religion. For example, one of the early things that students in my History of the Israelite Religion class encounter is the fact that we do not have an archaeological evidence to support the historical and empirical validity of the Exodus. This raises the issue of how we view truth. I believe that those who are in the “nones” place, the spiritual but not religious place, find that the academic study of religion scratches some of those itches [of looking for spiritual meaning]. I think humans are just looking for things that are bigger than we actually are.

Is this why we are studying the Hebrew text? Are you trying to give a scholarly interpretation of the text while also acknowledging the historical context of the Hebrews?

Inevitably, we are looking for interpretation. I think that these texts are situated within a culture of real people. The historical circumstances of their lives gave rise to the texts and their meaning interactions. The Hebrew Bible is a collection of texts that raises the question of what it means to be a Jew especially during a time of oppression such as the 6th Century Babylonian Exile. What do we do if we don’t live in the land of Israel? Can we have to worship in the same way, or do we need new practices? If we’ve been taken away from these cultural touchstones, how can we worship our God? That is what these texts are really about. I want my students regardless of what traditions they come from to read the texts and question the historical context. How do these texts help people shape their own identity?

Thank you so much for this interview. I just have one more question. If you could say anything to the future women of William and Mary given the definitive impact you have made as a female professor and as a woman of faith, what would you say?

What I want to always encourage women to do is to never be afraid to ask questions. And if people refuse to answer them, ask questions in different ways. Be curious. Understand that your questions may trouble the status quo and that isn’t a bad thing since it opens up new ways of viewing the world. And nobody will understand the world in exactly the ways that you do. Do not just sit back and think you have nothing to add to the conversation. Nobody will understand what you have read and what you think unless you speak up. Bring your voice to the table. The conversation is always richer if you bring a myriad of viewpoints to the table.

Just Keep Persevering

If you could say anything to future women of William and Mary, what would you say?

I would say there are a lot of challenges to being a woman, in general. Especially being at a school where a lot of things, a lot of fields, and a lot of subjects are still super male-dominated, it’s harder to gain recognition as a woman in leadership roles.  It’s difficult to be in charge of an organization if people don’t take you seriously. I also think that we as William & Mary students like to believe that we’re a very progressive campus and that things are really good here, but I think there are always ways to improve. For example, in ROCKET Magazine, it’s a great organization and I love everyone, but sometimes it still feels like because I’m a woman, I’m not taken as seriously if people think I’m too nice or cute or dainty. If people think that of you, they think that you’re not going to do anything to enforce what you say or the rules that you set, traits that are naturally attributed to men, so I think that is something difficult that I’m still working to overcome. But to future women of William & Mary,  just keep persevering – ultimately your work ethic will show through, so do whatever it is that you want to do, no matter what and no matter who says that you can’t, because you can do anything.

So moving forward from that last thing you said, how do you personally go through those challenges on a daily basis?

I’m an art major who specifically focuses on sculpture and I’m actually one of the only technical sculpture majors on campus, and I think that is something that I deal with more often than I’d like to. I also think that personally because I do sculpture, I’m very hands on, and the materials and tools I work with are really industrial, and could be male-dominant and attributed to men. I do a lot of cement work, I weld, and I use a lot of metal for metal work that involves power tools. So to me, I always feel like I”m a good example of the fact that anyone can do it, that it’s not just something that a man can do because they’re “big” and “strong.” I’m a five-foot-tall Asian girl, and I can do whatever a man can do. Anybody can, but I deal with a lot of people being surprised at what I do, and not thinking that I can do the things that I can do. I’m always trying to fight the stigmatization, so for things like that, I always like to surprise people with how strong I can be and what I can do, but it shouldn’t even be a surprise. Why are there even still  gendered characteristics and stereotypes?

In contrast to just naturally being boxed in both your pursuits as an artist and as a woman, how does the college support you?

The college itself can always do things that are better, but there are still good aspects of the overall experience. Having a lot of outlets on campus that allow for women to express themselves is something that stands out to me. I also appreciate having peers that are really supportive, like my advisor and my mentor who is a woman. She was the head of the art department, (though she’s on sabbatical right now,) but I think that’s a huge step to show that a woman can be the chair of the department. I think that’s cool–it’s not surprising, but it’s nice. On the other hand, there are only two female professors in the art department, which is pretty strange, but her being the chair was really cool and impressive. She also does sculpture, which is awesome. I think having great people on campus facilitating this William & Mary “personality,” one that’s really open to always helping others and taking people on in mentor-mentee relationships, is good and specific to William & Mary. That also carries over to my peers and friends. In Rocket, I also had a mentor who continues to guide me as a leader and friend. The last Editor-in-Chief, Isabella Arias, started as my editor on the style team when I first joined Rocket, and she was in wholeheartedly in charge of that team. She was super stubborn with her opinions and really strong-willed, and she got things done. She’s definitely a powerhouse and continues to be. She became the editor-in-chief, so it was clear she had what it takes to be an effective leader. But she showed that you can do whatever you decide you want to do, and I think that was something that really helped solidify my confidence in my own leadership abilities.

Considering that William and Mary is a predominantly white institution, what do you think your role is as a woman of color here on campus?

I think a huge thing to think about as a woman of color is definitely how to make things better for future women of color on campus. I think you need to do everything possible to support and change the way the dynamics of the school serve some and not others. We’ve done a lot, but I think that you can never do enough. Instead of just saying we want to do things and saying we support certain movements, it’s about action, so that’s what I think about a lot. I think about how I need to do more, always, and I think that mentorship, taking people on, helping other people and discussing their problems, their doubts–it was something that helped me so much, and hopefully I can be that for someone else. I’m often in a predominantly white space, my high school was extremely white and William & Mary is a PWI, so I think it’s hard sometimes as a female person of color to actually realize how rare it is to be a female person of color in any of your classes and on campus itself. It’s strange honestly. But I think keeping it in mind and being aware and trying to help future generations–I think that’s what’s important. Becoming a leader on campus and being involved so as to create larger platforms for WOC on campus is also a great goal to have. I also think that branching out and learning and talking about other issues, like the oppression of minorities, and intersectionality, is also imperative to a positive culture on campus.

Empathy and Understanding Beyond the Classroom

The person who nominated you really spoke to your style of teaching, can you tell me a significant experience that affected the way you approach teaching today?

College was perhaps the hardest four-and-a-half years of my life and so as I went through that experience, often left wondering why it was that difficult, I realized that I did not have an appreciation for how the education would affect me after graduation. Perhaps more importantly, I did not have the support that I needed to evolve both as a professional and as an individual. Now, as a teacher, I take that perspective with me everytime I walk into a classroom because I need to know that you, as students, understand the value that this education will have in your life after William & Mary. It’s not enough for you to understand formulas and frameworks. It’s more important for you to understand the value of those formulas and frameworks, and see how you can use them to change the world in a manner that you believe will make a difference, not just simply in the manner that I believe will make a difference. So I think that’s an important part of my teaching experience. It really is about the students finding their own voice.

So why do you say your college experience was the hardest four years of your life?

I was the first woman to attend college in my family and I attended a college that I could simply afford and, in retrospect, one that was not quite right for me.  So it was difficult; it was difficult from an emotional perspective, a mental perspective, and educational perspective. My first year of college, I had the typical transition challenges and then my friend who lived next door in our residence hall was killed in a car accident just before Thanksgiving.  When I returned home for Christmas, I was hospitalized and did not know if I could even return for my second semester. So, I did not have the most auspicious start as an undergraduate. Unfortunately, the college that I attended did not have a Career Center and did not have a Counseling Centerwe had one individual who served as the counselor for careers and anything else you might need. So we were really lacking support outside of the classroom.

However, I did have an amazing professor who saw something in me and allowed me to take her Women in Leadership course even though I was only a freshman.  And that course changed my life because I realized, as a woman, you can do more than you might have expected and you should do more. You’ve been privileged to get this education, now what will you do with this education? And eventually it was through a conversation with her that I decided to transfer colleges, because I realized it was not the college where I needed to be.

The ironic backstory is that this professor was the most popular teacher on campus, but she did not have an academic credential beyond an undergraduate degree.  So even though the student body had voted her as outstanding teacher that year, the college fired her. And it was really devastating to all of us because she was truly fundamental to our education. Credentials may be important, but they do not determine the value of an individual, or the ultimate impact the individual can have on others.  

The primary reason that I took the role here as a Clinical Professor at William & Mary, and gave up tenure at my previous college, was that I wanted to focus on teaching.  Had there been clinical roles 30 years ago, perhaps Professor Pedrick would still be teaching.

As a quick side note the most wonderful part of social media is the connections that we can maintain and, after years of searching, I finally found Professor Pedrick on Facebook.  It was my greatest joy to reach out to her and thank her for making such a difference in my life. During my freshman year, I was suicidal and really did not know how I was going to work through all of the challenges that I had. So it was such a gift to reconnect with herI actually posted about her on Facebook and asked my former students to also post to show her how many lives she’s touched through how she inspired me.  

That’s amazing! Do you still keep in contact with her?

Yes! I still live for her posts on Facebook! She tells me that she’s proud of me, and that’s as good as it gets for me!

How did she react when she found out you’re teaching here at William & Mary?

She was very proud and so kind on a personal level.  It is not just the professional achievements that she appreciates, but more importantly the person that I have become. As we think about the importance of Humans of William & Mary, she was undoubtedly the human touch that that truly changed the trajectory of of my life.

Do you have any memorable interactions with students or something that just really resonated with you?

Now that I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, there’s not a day that passes that I do not receive a kind word from a current student or former student.  I still have challenging days as a professor, but when you focus upon our inspiring students, I know my role at William & Mary is simply as good as it gets.

Can you tell me about a time when you were inspired by your students?

I am constantly inspired by students!  One particular story that I can share is the response that I received when I first presented a Socialnomics video that highlights facts and figures about how social media and digital tools are changing the world around us. The video features statistics such as 92% of all children under the age of 2 have a digital shadow. And that a goldfish has an attention span of 8 seconds, while humans have an attention span of 7 seconds. I was really excited to introduce my class to this creative video to inspire their thinking about how these factors could affect how we communicate in this evolving world.  So when I asked them what they thought about the video, I was stunned when a student responded, “Dr. Edmiston, I think that was the most depressing video I’ve ever seen.”  And I said to him, “Why? That was not the answer I was expecting!” And he quietly said, “How will I ever compete in that world.” I’m not usually speechless, but I didn’t know how to respond to him. I hadn’t viewed the video like that. And I quickly learned that he was not the only student with these concerns.  So I started to think about how I could take what I’m teaching about marketing success in organization and start teaching how those factors can be applied to achieve success as individuals. And what resulted was a concept that I titled, “Developing POP”a Professional Online Presence.”  I’ve taught this concept now as far away as China, I taught it last week to the American Marketing Association of Hampton Roads and I am teaching it today to our alumni. That one student interaction, that one engagement, entirely changed how I thought about teaching the fundamentals of digital marketing.

Does that student know you’re doing these POP talks because of that specific interaction?

Yes! He does know and he always smiles and appreciates when I remind him about it. He said it was the least he could do for me.

When you reach students like this one, who are at a loss on how to move forward, that’s what really matters.  However, I have come to the realization that I cannot reach all students, and that was hard when I first arrived at William & Mary. I was just so happy to be here, but the academic year of 2014, was really hard for us.  My first two weeks here, I had more students wanting to meet with me to discuss mental health issues than to discuss academic concerns. And, I never expected that. Of course, if you’re not doing well as a whole person, how will you ever do well in class?  It is so important to focus not just on the mind, but on the body and spirit as well. I really appreciate that William & Mary has developed an approach to integrative wellness; in fact, two of my Marketing Strategy teams this semester focused on the launch of our new Integrative Wellness Center this fall.  

How did you help students when they approached you for mental health issues, even when that isn’t your profession?

Empathy is the foundation of all that I do. And these are the conversations that we need to have, that I want to have. Sometimes people just need to be heard, and know that they matter. And again, I think it’s the greatest attribute of the Humans of William & Mary movement–that we see one another as humans, that we don’t live our lives so quickly to fail to appreciate the beauty in each other.

In my generation, there was a television program called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  You can ask anybody my age raised in the US if they know Mister Rogers and they will respond, “Yes!” He was so kind and wonderful because he made you feel like he heard you, even through the television screen. And he just so happened to have been born in the town of my previous college, so when he passed away, we inherited all of this archives. I often think to myself, what would Mister Rogers do? After 9/11 he developed public service announcements to let children know that they mattered, that they had a voice, that they were loved and supported. And sometimes, that’s all an individual needs to hear and be reminded of.

Of course, if students need greater support, I encourage them to access our Integrative Wellness Center. We seem to recognize the importance of seeking support for our academic needs, but we also need to seek support for our wellness needs. I’m thankful they feel that they can approach me. I tell them on the first day of class, that my door is open.  My students all have my mobile number so they know how to reach me. I’ve never had a student abuse that in all my years of teaching; they’ve always been very respectful. When they reach out to me, I know they really need me.

If you could say anything to the future women at the College, what would you say?

Be bold, be honest, and pursue your passions. Do not feel that you need to be somebody society expects you to be. We will be in a better place in this world when we recognize and respect the value of individual voices and the joy of diversity.

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If you could say anything to the future women of William and Mary, what would you say?

I think I would really urge other women to not be afraid to be loud. Because I think that I’ve gotten where I am by being loud and unapologetic, but ironically, it’s something I still struggle a lot with now. I’m afraid to talk a lot, I’m afraid to post on social media a lot, I’m afraid to have my ideas and thoughts out there. It’s scary, but I’m also very proud of all the work I’ve done, and I think that what I’ve accomplished would not have been known by a lot of people if I hadn’t gone on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and I hadn’t told people, “Come to this event!” I think that a lot of women are scared to do that because they feel they can come across as being too much, but I  would ask them to challenge that for themselves and tell people what they think and mean and care about. To me, if you care and you’re bold and you feel badass, you’re creating more space for them to care and be badass too.

What’s a personal experience that you could talk about where “being loud” worked in your favor?

I’m a co-founder of HEART, which is a group on campus that advocates for survivors of labor and commercial sex trafficking, and tries to educate our campus about the issue of human trafficking. HEART started after I completed a Branch Out service trip where we worked with women in a rough area of Baltimore who were in after-care situations from human trafficking and prostitution. When five of my friends and I got back on campus, we realized there was no organization here that was addressing such a pervasive and devastating issue that affects so many people and ruins lives, even in Williamsburg. We thought that was weird for such a socially progressive campus, so we started HEART. And going back to owning your voice, when HEART started I became our Public Relations chair. I created our Facebook and Instagram accounts and I posted about all our events. I was online a lot and I was sharing a lot, and it often made me feel like I was seeking so much attention because I was telling people all the time, “Read this,” and “Read that.”, “Come to this” and “Come to that!” I was so worried about it for so long, but now I really don’t feel any guilt about projecting what we do and pushing people to come. It’s funny, now a lot of people come up to me and they’re just  like, “You’re the girl from HEART!” It’s the best.

I just spoke about how I got started in human trafficking advocacy at our Rally Against Trafficking Event last weekend. I put it on my Facebook page–it’s a video of me talking about my experience working with women and what it’s taught me and how I’ve gotten where I am. I was nervous to share that video because I didn’t know it was being taken until one of my co-chairs sent it to me and said, “You should post this.” My immediate reaction was “Nobody wants to see that. That’s so conceited of me to post a video of myself talking.” But she really forced me to do it, and I’m so glad I did. It was real and it was honest and it was me, and I really realized how satisfying it felt to own myself and the amazing opportunities I’ve had.

I’ve just had so many spaces where I can be loud, and while it’s always uncomfortable at first it is always always worth it. I don’t know how personal we want to get with this this and I’m pretty open about it now, but I’m in recovery from anorexia, so I worked on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week at William and Mary this spring, which was incredible. I did a student panel where I talked about my experience with seven other students. A lot of my friends came to it and a lot of my teammates came to it, which honestly gave me chills. A lot of my teammates had a lot of questions and wanted to just talk to me about it and we actually ended up doing a discussion on my team about food and loving your body, which is something I’m so passionate about. I’ve been loud in that aspect and it has been such a gift–I’ve really tried to help my teammates wherever they are in their recoveries and just tell them, “You’re an athlete. You need to actually really need to take care of yourself and fuel your body and your soul.” I cannot emphasize how important that is for women.

That’s really amazing. I’m speechless.

Thank you so much, it’s so weird, a lot of people come up to me and they’re like, “It’s so cool you did that. You’re so inspirational.” It can still make me feel like a bit of a fraud because I am honestly such a nerd and I don’t have my life together so I laugh when people tell me, “You’re so inspirational” and I’m just like, “That’s so nice of you, but also like, I have nothing together.” I need to acknowledge that imperfection too.

But I also think that’s a really nice perspective to hear.

It’s so nice but I feel like I don’t deserve it and I want to deflect it and say, “Someone else is also doing this really cool thing! Go talk to them!” because really so many people are on this campus. I don’t know, I just feel like I get a lot of undue attention and I’m just like, “Don’t put it on me. There are other people!” but I’m starting to realize how much of a common sentiment that is, and how great it can be to combat that insecurity for yourself.

Listening to all this, you’ve definitely supported the college in so many ways, so kind of on the other side of that, how do you think the college supports you?

I really like that question, honestly, it’s given me a lot of really weird coincidental opportunities where I’ve been able to blend my interests unexpectedly. I’m a double major and one of my majors is Hispanic Studies, so I studied abroad in Spain and did a research project on sex trafficking in Spain, and I investigated what it looks like in Spain, that was so cool. William and Mary has given me all of these opportunities to engage in activism but in the end it’s really given me all these fantastic people I’ve gotten to reach out to and connect with.

I think I’m in a position now where I really tried to seize everything around me, so now it’s kind of like a full circle effect where opportunities are seizing me. I’ve gotten messages on Facebook where other students will write, “Hey do this thing. Hey, speak on this panel.” And I’m like, “Me? You want me to speak on a panel?” But it’s so so nice. That’s how I heard about this opportunity, my teammates told me, “we nominated you for this Humans of William and Mary!” And I was so appreciative, I nearly cried.

Definitely. I think that’s really important that you’re given the opportunity to speak out.

Absolutely, speaking out has been everything. Plus aside from all the work, it’s such a beautiful school and I walk around and I’m always like, “This isn’t real. I’ve met the most incredible friends here and the best people that have saved me.”

So on one last thing, what kind of new perspective do you think you are bringing on campus now and you will continue to bring?

I think that I’d like to dig into the idea of what it means to be too loud, but also how you can be intersectional and intentional in what you care about, and you can be powerful by being vulnerable.  I wear this ampersand ring on my index finger, because it represents my recovery and reminds me of how far I’ve come. I worked with a eating disorder treatment group where we talked a lot about the power of “and”–like how you can be two things at once. I’m a runner, so I really like to work hard and push my body, so I think that you can be an athlete and tough and gritty and also be very feminine.  Or you can be very socially active and be loud. That’s okay. You can give yourself permission to be both things. There’s this amazing interview I watch of this creator named Elisa Goodkind where she says “It’s almost like I love life too much.” And I completely relate to that. I love life too much and I love people too much, but I’d like to keep challenging that for myself and for other women. But you can be vulnerable AND too passionate AND uncertain about it all, it’s all this beautiful mess.

 

Murals and Movement

When did you graduate?

I graduated in May 2017.

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

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

Why do you say that’s not a lot?

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

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

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

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

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

Did you want to stay here?

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

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

I know you started your own project, right?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So sad, I don’t, I feel like.

No, that’s perfectly valid, too.

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

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

No, that’s so cool!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where in Massachusetts are you from?

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

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

Oh where?

Simmons College.

Oh that’s awesome!

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

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

Is she undergrad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can say whatever you want to say.

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

I think that’s really important. Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes you kind of just forget about it, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intersectionality: Women and Latin Americans

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

Be bold. I think it’s very easy for women to be intimidated into silence, especially in such an institution as William & Mary where there are so many brilliant individuals. There were so many times in class where I would have something to say but I would be too scared to say it. I did not trust my intelligence and strength as a person and student to be bold and just speak up. My other piece of advice is to seek out mentorship and presence from female faculty and staff ASAP. There are so many female professors and staff that I am in awe of their strength and brilliance; and I feel like, with all of the professors and staff that I consider to be my loves/mentors, I know that it took me some time to have the courage to speak to them on a one-on-one basis. So my advice is to tell the little devil to be quiet and be bold. Speak up, make empowering relationships, and just get out of your comfort zone.

In your interview, you spoke passionately about your research on disabilities in Latin America (I believe, I don’t quite remember the specifics). Could you describe this and how your personal experience affected this research?

So basically, this past year I was doing an internship for U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where in the fall I looked at the institutionalization of women with disabilities in Mexico City. Institutionalization itself threatens the wellbeing of persons with disabilities (PWD) as it isolates PWD in Mexico from society and leaves them vulnerable to abuse in protective institutions. Because women with disabilities (WWD) face discrimination for their ability and gender, they are vulnerable to greater physical and sexual abuse and limited sexual and reproductive rights. The Mexican government prompts this abuse by assisting in forced sterilization, funding these institutions, and providing insufficient resources to reintegrate WWD after their trauma at protective institutions. The community does not provide resources to reintegrate the patients into society, condemning them to a lifetime in the protective institution. And what’s unfortunate is that no resources exist to support the unique needs of women with disabilities as sexual assault survivors who also have disabilities, leaving them vulnerable to trauma and nowhere to go but a different institution. So the cycle of sexual violence and human rights violations continue against them. What I learned most about this experience is that we don’t often talk about the intersectionality of gender and disability/other personal identities with disabilities. What I gained most from this research is that it is so easy to discriminate against disability, and when combined with other marginalized identities, these individuals are further vulnerable to discrimination and oppression. I’ve been seeing more discussion about the experience of people with disabilities recently, but I think there needs to be more talk and more action, especially with how disability connects with intersectional identities.

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

Feeling like what I cared about is important within the campus community and to the greater society. I think it was difficult for me as a woman to stand out and be comfortable with my voice and the fact that my interests were not necessarily the norm, especially within my discipline. My region of interest was Latin America, partly because of my Cuban identity and partly because I was inspired by its culture and history; I received a lot of poo poo about it because several people do not think the region is strategically important. And then senior year I was interested in combining L.A. with my passion for disability rights. Disability rights is another topic that I feel like not many people care about given that the campus itself is inaccessible and so many people execute ableist actions without disregard for its consequences (I’m looking at you, people who park in handicap spots without a permit). So it took me a while to feel like what I cared about mattered. And I think that always hearing some of the men in our school speak their opinions so loudly and tell me that what I cared about didn’t matter, especially in regard to Latin America, that it made me question if I should care about what I cared about. But now those men are on my list of people that I must do better than in life.

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.

Life in the Archives

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

Learn from the women who came before you. Each generation has its challenges, and oftentimes those challenges are very similar. It’s helpful (I think) to know you are not alone.

In your interview, you were so passionate about your work, and the “people” you meet while working. Can you describe how you approach working in the archives, and how the people you’re reading about come alive to you? To go along with that, who are some of your favorite people you’ve “met” through working in the archives?

Given the immense volume of record material, combined with limited staff resources – it isn’t possible to read every document, much as I might want to.  Sometimes, however, a person’s papers or the records of a specific office dictates taking a closer look. In that regard, it’s easy to get lost in someone’s life, where you may be like “I wonder what happens next,” “what happened to so-and-so,” etc. For some collections, I felt a connection to the long-deceased person whose letters I’m reading.  For others, I may have finished the project not liking the person at all. One of my favorite W&M folks is Earl Gregg Swem, for whom the main library is named. It’s through his efforts that we have a Special Collections at W&M. He was also on the committee which raised the funds for the College Mace. The Mace is my favorite W&M artifact, and it pleases me to no end knowing he had a hand in its creation as well as being the person entrusted with its care. The Mace has been on display in the Library since it was given to the W&M students at Charter Day in 1923.

What has been the greatest challenge for you as a woman working at William and Mary, and in archival research in general?

I feel lucky to work in Swem among a lot of smart, talented women.  In regards to archives, the reality is that vast majority of the institution’s records, especially those from leadership offices, are from the perspective of men.  It’s much more challenging to find the female voice within the institution’s records. That is all due to change, however, considering there are more women in leadership roles here than ever before.

Strength in Being Soft

What makes you a woman of William and Mary?

As a member of the St. Andrews program, I’ve only actually been here for two years and so have only been a woman of William & Mary for two years of my life, as a freshman and now as a senior. I was abroad for my sophomore and junior years, meaning I came here as a freshman and didn’t know what I was doing and now I’m a senior ready to leave and make her mark on the world. So, all the in-between growth didn’t happen here, but ironically, I think that’s made me view womanhood in two very different ways, because when you’re starting out, you’re so uncertain. You start freshman year and you’re not really sure what you’re about or what you’re interested in, so I think at that time, I look back on it with a lot of regret and I think there are a lot of ways in which I could have done better with my identities and done better to be more engaged with campus but I didn’t. So I think freshman year, I let myself be defined by a lot of other things, like I didn’t really make an identity for myself or I always kept looking for one thing to latch onto and the big lesson that I learned with time was that I didn’t have to keep looking, that I could be a number of things and could be multifaceted and still be Meher. So this year is probably the year I’d say I’ve become not just a true William & Mary student but I think very very proud of womanhood as a concept and as something that I can allow to blossom in different spaces and not feel that is has to be restricted to one area. So I’d say for me, a woman of William & Mary is someone who’s not defined by some boundaries, it’s someone whose colors bleed, it’s someone who is many many different types of a person and I think there is no one Woman of William & Mary – I think womanhood as a concept is something that is freeing because it doesn’t have the restrictions of masculinity and manhood and what those things mean in the modern age but it’s also something that, because of that, becomes a reception point for negative spaces. So for example, if manhood is all about being strong or being set in certain paths or viewing the world in a certain way, then womanhood becomes a contrast, and that’s often been what upholds the patriarchy, because women have often been relegated to being the “other” to men, but I think, and this is not my idea, many many feminists have thought this before me, that you can take that and you can make it something triumphant. And you can allow that negative space to be filled with what you wish it to be because it does not need to be delineated in the same way manhood is. So I think William & Mary by nature, being an institution that encourages the study of liberal arts and encourages different types of people to come here, has allowed me to see myself as a woman who can blossom in different spaces on this campus, which I think I can at least, now that senior year is ending, say I have done a lot better than I did freshman year.

So what have you gotten involved with on campus?

So this year, and my freshman year I guess, I’ve been very much involved with culturally-based organizations. That was one major side of identity that I started out with. I was like, “okay, the first thing that I see about myself is my race, and how am I going to engage with that?” Because for a long time in my childhood and in my teen years I didn’t really engage with it and I tried to sort of shut those things out, especially when I thought of myself as a woman. It seemed to me that womanhood should be uncomplicated and not have race attached to it, or religion or ethnicity or language or immigration status, those kinds of things. In high school I couldn’t reconcile those two so in college I was like, “okay I’ll pick my race over the other things.” And I tried to just first join culturally-based organizations but I always found something lacking in just that. So I was a part of the Middle Eastern Student Association for awhile, even though I’m not from the Middle East I kind of ended up in that slot. I was a part of the South Asian Student Association, and I did both of those things, and then I got more involved with religiously-based organizations, and this year I’ve been a huge part of the Asian American Student Initiative which is a lot of social justice work which I think, of all the clubs I’ve been a part of, has been the most fulfilling. And I think, like I said, what I finally managed to wager this year is seeing how womanhood can be a part of all of those things – that I can be a South Asian woman and an activist woman and those things aren’t necessarily separate or compartmentalized.

You mentioned that the Asian American Student Initiative was the one that was the most fulfilling. How did it make you feel fulfilled?

I think there are a number of things that AASI does well, and it’s not necessarily AASI member, like there is an archetypal South Asian Student Association member and there is an archetypal member of a number of other clubs on campus. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be the true person who joins it but it’s the vision you have, so like you have a vision of what a sorority girl is, you have a vision of what a member of Sikh might be. But because AASI really has nothing to define it beyond Asian, which is extremely nebulous as a concept, and activism, you could be anyone and be a part of it and I think in being presented that blank canvas, I have been allowed, as a member of that club, to shape more wholly who I’m going to be as an AASI member, and then I never have to feel like I’m failing to meet the standards of what a member of AASI should be whereas in another organization I’d often feel I wasn’t meeting them.

So you also mentioned that you have some regrets about  your freshman year here. Why is that?

I mean freshman year for everybody is, you know, it’s a time of discovery. I guess what I regret is…I think it’s very much tied to this question of womanhood and selfhood. It’s that I…I felt like I wanted to belong to something and I felt like to belong to something I had to contort myself to fit what the ideal version of that kind of club was. So because clubs are often places where you find yourself on campus, especially in a place like William & Mary where students are super involved, I thought to myself, “okay the archetypal member of blank club is like this, I need to shape myself to be that way.” And obviously, you know, if you bend yourself to that point you could break. Because you will no longer be your authentic self and obviously those quests are also futile because in the end you realize that you never felt like you were belonging, you just made yourself feel more excluded. So I think that was my big regret, and I think going abroad kind of helped with understanding myself a bit more.

What do you think changed when you went abroad? Did you get involved with different things, was it just being away from the states that made you grow? What was it about being abroad?

I think it was a couple things. One, I was in Britain, that’s where the St. Andrew’s program is, in Scotland. One thing is I used to live in Britain when I was younger and personally, for me, it’s a huge part of my identity. I think in my heart I identify more as a British Asian than I would an Asian American or Indian American. So I think I had wanted to return there for a long time, and returning to that space and being around other British Asians and being in Britain again was very joyous for me because it was like in some sense I could finally connect to a path that felt a lot more real to me than America did. And I think understanding one’s past, even if it is an idealized or constructed version of it, is a huge part of finding yourself because if you can tie yourself to these roots or your authentic origin, then you can kind of move forward. So joining clubs over there that allowed me to connect with other British Asians was a great way of having people I could have more authentic discussion with about who I was and what my childhood made me than maybe South Asians here could do for me, and that’s not their fault, it’s just naturally who I am. One big thing was there was a feminist club in St. Andrews that I joined and I know we don’t really have a feminist club here, I guess the closest we have is Vox maybe, and that was actually a huge part of understanding womanhood because that club in St. Andrews was very white and very very upper class which is naturally St. Andrews, it’s a very elite institution, it’s mostly rich students, so because I joined that space and I was really interested in feminist discourse but everyone around me was so unlike me in everything except being a woman, I really began to ask myself about “what is womanhood in comparison to all these other people?” And then I was like, “Maybe I should bring back all of these other identities that matter to me and bring them together.”

Wow, that sounds like a great experience! So are you hoping to end up back in Britain eventually?

Yes. I want to be in London. I interned there this summer at a law firm so I’m hoping to work in a law firm there.

How many years did you live there?

So in St. Andrews I was there for two years, and then as a kid it was a good portion of my childhood, from age 5 to my early teens.

So that definitely shaped who you are then?

I think so.

Okay so this is kind of related to questions I’ve already asked, but if you could talk to a future Woman of William & Mary, what would you say to her?

Like an incoming student?

Yeah, incoming student, a year from now or twenty years from now. What would you tell her?

I would tell them that there’s an amazing strength in being soft. Empowering women has become an obvious part of the zeitgeist now and everyone wants to carry around a feminist bag. They want to talk about empowering women, label everything she does as empowering – from how she wears her hair to her lipstick to how she walks. Unfortunately, the movement has been somewhat co-opted by the very forces that have upheld patriarchy. So now we have this idea that a strong woman should be someone who is involved in a million things, who has to constantly undertake the emotional labor of sharing her voice, who has to act in a very certain way, and as much as that feeds into ridiculous fantasies of the “femi-Nazi”, it also feeds back into the feminist community the irrefutable image of the strong woman as an iron lady. This to me seems like womanhood with all the negative qualities of toxic and aggressive masculinity. Strong women don’t necessarily have to be what patriarchal men were. The best lesson I could tell a future woman of William & Mary is that there’s amazing strength in just owning who you are and if that is someone who doesn’t fit this cookie-cutter vision of what a strong woman has to be, which is itself a fiction, embrace it. There is remarkable strength in speaking your truth and testifying for that truth. In these four years, I’ve learnt that the most fulfilling moments happen only when you bear witness to your most authentic self. You don’t try to fit a truth that others may enjoy or that you yourself may want to believe – just be honest with yourself. This campus is at a turning point. We’ve got President-elect Rowe, who has a stunning resume and has done a lot of great work hiring minorities and women. We’ve reached 50 years of African American students and 100 years of women on this campus. Going forth, William & Mary has a blank canvas. Rather than passively inheriting the past, it can forge a new path, a path grounded in softness, in understanding. Like the ideal woman of William & Mary – strong and understanding and who knows herself.  

Yeah I think knowing yourself is very important. Well those are the questions that I had prepared if you want to add anything else, if you have something else you want to say, you’re welcome to say it now.

It’s interesting in that you guys asked for nominations rather than applications. So rather than having someone come forward and say “I believe that I am The Woman, you should talk to me,” you asked the community. And when I was told that I was doing this I was genuinely surprised because I was like, “Am I even a student of William & Mary? I haven’t been here for even two years as of yet!” And I also was like, “Who on earth nominated me?” I’m incredibly honored but I don’t know who these people are but I’m very very grateful however. So it kind of put me in an interesting tiff for a couple of days because I was like, “Am I a Woman of William & Mary? I’ve never considered this.” And does this mean I’ve had an unspoken impact on people where I haven’t realized it, enough so that they felt the need to nominate me for this. And in that moment I kind of realized one issue that I see a lot with women on this campus, and women in general who do well and are smart and brilliant, is a kind of imposter syndrome where we’re like, “Oh, I really do matter? The stuff that comes out of my mouth isn’t stupid?” And I think that in itself was like a “Oh, wow, I tell others to believe in themselves but have I been believing in myself all along?” So that’s one thing that kind of got me thinking of like, “Oh so when I’m interviewed for this, what am I going to say?” because I haven’t been thinking of myself as a Woman of William & Mary. I thought of myself as Meher. And that isn’t necessarily a William & Mary student or just a woman – it’s a lot of different things. So I think what I’d say, again maybe to answer the question that you just asked, because there’s just so much that you can say to a future woman, is that there is no ideal Woman of William & Mary beyond one who knows herself, who speaks her truth, and who is not afraid to be soft. I think that’s most of what I would say. And then just embracing your own complexities. Don’t think that you have to prioritize womanhood over being anything else, and also don’t think that you have to make being a woman subservient to anything else.

Yeah so for our nomination process, we like to get input from the community, and for this project we got around 94 nominations and we spent a long time just going through them. We ended up with 18 because you know, 2018 is the year, and it was a very hard process because the nominations were wonderful and it was just so warming to me to see all of these nominations of people, like you had mentioned, of friends who nominated their friends for being their support system, for being their rock during their four years here, or we also had a lot of professors nominated and a lot of other staff around campus nominated. It’s just things like that that show that this sense of womanhood throughout campus is so strong and it’s so supportive. It was very eye-opening for me to see all of those.

One other thing I was say is it’s interesting because this here, more than I think in the past three years of college, I found myself because I was just putting myself out there but also in just moments like these, I have been asked to speak at things. I was a Charter Day Speaker this year. Recently I spoke on a podcast about diversity with the Student Engagement Office. Leadership Office? Development? Something like that. Or there’s grander things, there’s administration which I’ve had to tweak at, and it’s interesting because like Ladies of Alpha asked women around campus to talk about their experiences, and in each of these moments I would kind of drop on myself like, “Okay this is a moment to speak.” I’ll be speaking as an immigrant, all of these things. And I’ve thought “Okay how do I balance all of this and not sound like a fool and do well by all of these communities?” And I’ve realized that in these opportunities which I’m so grateful for, I’m able to go through almost everything I’ve really wanted to say to my alma mater, and everything I really wanted to say to a place that took me a long time to learn to love, because we had such a bad relationship freshman year and then I wasn’t here for two years. And though I can firmly say I love William & Mary, I have come to love this place very much, one thing I would love to say to it and one lesson that I’ve learned, and I think this ties in with my point about finding strength in softness is when I was coming back this year, I only had the memories of first year, which were largely fruitless memories. And I kind of was like, “Oh man I’m just coming to this place with this bad attitude, I haven’t really gotten much to build off of. I have good friends that I’m coming back to, sure, but more or less the narrative of freshman year isn’t a very triumphant one.” And I kept thinking to myself, “How do I move past this pain and not just be stuck in it?” And I realized the only way you could really move past things that have hurt you, and this is an art I think women have perfected over time, is to take trauma and to build something new out of it. There’s a saying that my mother always says, it’s translated but it’s “flowers always grow around cemeteries.” And I thought to myself that I have to take the things that hurt me as a woman, as a South Asian in my freshman year and I have to do good by them and I have to make things better for all the women who are going to come after me. And one of those things that really made me think about women was freshman year, I really wanted a female mentor, and that’s one thing I really sought out. I never quite found it. In St. Andrews I found so many women I looked up to with totally different backgrounds, but I came in this year and I thought to myself, “I want to do better. I want to be the person I needed when I was younger.” And in that sense, I’ve had a lot of like…I have a little who I adore, she is like future Woman of the World, she’s on like 3 exec boards already, I’m proud of this little freshman. But I also have a lot of quasi-littles in other clubs, you know, people who you just sort of take in as like your babies, and all of them I look in their shining faces and I take out time to be there for them, and I hope I have been, but I constantly think like “Okay what can I do to be the kind of mom that I always wanted to have for myself in these spaces?” And it has been the greatest lesson of senior year and maybe of college, that you can move past pain and you can bring something great from it if you try to make flowers grow from that cemetery, and now that the year is ending and like I’ve told you, I’ve had all these wonderful opportunities given to me and I’m not sure if I deserve them. It’s just wonderful things I’ve been allowed to do like speak at Charter Day, and now this nomination here from people I don’t know who nominated me but I’m very grateful, it just makes me think, “Wow, if you could take me from freshman year and four years later you have me with the amazing chance to speak for all the women who have been at William & Mary, or to be a part of that quilt of voices, it should be a lesson that you can do anything, that you can really take anything and bring good out of it, not by trampling on it or going angrily against it or rebelling against the past, but embracing it and trying to do good by yourself and trying to heal yourself in the good you do.

Fencing & Friendships

Are you in a class right now?

Yeah! I’m in the Intro to 3D Design. It’s been pretty interesting, there’s some things where I’m really not sure what to do with the instructions given, but that’s any class.

What drew you to taking this class?

I needed to fill my schedule!

Where you interested in art, or was this a last resort?

I mean, I like looking at art, but I’m not particularly great at making it. 3D art, where you get to play with clay and cardboard was a lot better than 2D art, where you actually have to have an understanding of depth and how to draw a straight line, which, you know, I can’t.

Were you surprised at all at what you’re able to do?

Well, kind of the way he’s been doing it this year, is he gives us 15 minutes in class to explore one concept. Then later, we come back and improve upon whatever we made, but most people just ditch whatever they cobbled together with cardboard and hot glue in desperation and make something actually nice-looking, which is more than I can say.

Did you expect to be working with those kinds of materials?

My roommate took the class last semester, so as much as I was paying attention to what she was doing, and as much as we were in the same room at the same time, I kind of had an idea of what I was coming face-first into.

So you’re not as interested in art as one might presume a person taking an art class would be, but what are you interested in on campus or what have you gotten yourself involved in?

Well I’m a Psychology major, and I’m on the fencing team. It’s a lot of fun and there are a lot of crazy people. For some reason, there seems to be a certain sort of crazy that tends to be attracted to hitting each other with bits of pointy metal.

Did you do fencing before William & Mary?

Nope, I came freshman year with no idea which end to hold the sword from, they have basically been teaching me for the past four years and it’s really cool. There have been a handful of tournaments we get to go to every semester and it’s a lot of fun.

How do you feel about fencing, do you feel differently than when you had first started?

Definitely feels a lot less painful, because there are muscles that you don’t use in everyday life. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun and something I gradually built up confidence at.

Was anyone surprised that you took up fencing here?

Given my propensity towards whacking anybody with anything vaguely tube shaped when I was a child, I don’t think my family was particularly surprised. I think this was more seen as a “finally, she has an outlet.”

So what year are you?

A senior, which is a bit of a scary thought. Wow, it happened fast.

Do you have a bucket list of things you would want to do?

Not particularly, I’m kind of just hoping to take advantage of whatever opportunities show up. I’m not going to go out looking for 5,000 extra things to do when I’ve got three essays already due. Not to say that I still won’t procrastinate.

What has been something about the campus or the people that have been instrumental in the way you’ve taken on these past years?

Definitely the fencing team, when I came to William & Mary freshman year, I didn’t know anyone and was anxious with no friends. And then the fencing team was like “Hello! We’ll be your entire social life” and I was like “Okay!” So now I can’t get rid of these people… But it’s a lot of fun and they are always entertaining.

Did you have the opportunity to welcome the new freshmen into that too?

Yeah, I’m still kind of hoping that I can be the same kind of upperclassman to somebody as I had coming in. Lots of love and thanks to the people who’ve helped me through freshman year, because I did not know what I was doing.

Do you feel like you know what you’re doing now?

Well, I know where all the buildings are! At this point, I tend to forget that you need to budget out 20 minutes to get from one end of campus, because it’s just like ‘Oh, it’s just over there by the Rec…’ and then I realize I have to walk all the way to the Rec.

Are you going to continue on with fencing later on, after college?

Probably not, because fencing in college, you just have to pay club dues and you get a ton of college events. I get to go to those without spending thousands of dollars. Once I get to be an adult, then I’d have to find a club near me as I can’t go to a school one anymore. I have to pay for all my tournament fees, for all sorts of new equipment because the requirements for grown-ups are higher than the ones for school tournaments. I can’t get away with the 10 dollar blades anymore. Unfortunately, once you get out of school, fencing is much a rich people’s sport. I’m just enjoying it while I’m here.

What was the initial thing that motivated you to go to fencing?

Well, I was at the Activities Fair as a freshman, and I saw someone walking around with a sword, and I followed them!  

Women in Economics

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

If I could offer one piece of advice to future women of William and Mary it would be the following: find opportunities to challenge yourself! Take courses that push you outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure doesn’t define you and you will learn a lot about yourself in situations when you are challenged.

You mentioned in your first interview the role model you had when deciding to go into teaching in high ed. Could you retell the story about the importance of this woman in your life?

I was lucky enough to have a strong mentor as an undergraduate. A new female economics professor started at my college when I was a senior and I served as her teaching assistant. She really inspired me. Working for her was the first time I could picture myself going to graduate school and pursuing a career in economics. During your time at William & Mary, I encourage you to reach out to mentors who inspire you. Ask questions, get their perspectives, and ask for advice!

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

The greatest challenge (and opportunity) for me, as a female professor at W&M, is to serve as a role model and to try and inspire other females to consider pursuing an economics major. Historically, economics has been a more male dominated field and I would like to encourage female students to consider opportunities in economics.

Embracing the Entirety of Experiences

I’m assuming the person who nominated me is a really close friend of mine and she graduated last year. I’m in the South Asian Student Association and she’s my big. I know she had probably mentioned things about mental health and South Asian advocacy, but I don’t even know how to begin to summarize or even tackle explaining everything that has been for me over the past several years. But yes, I do a lot of work with our South Asian Student Association and as of late, we’ve been doing some programming within our organization to tackle stigma surrounding mental health stigma since that’s a particularly present phenomenon unfortunately. Just because of the generation gap and misunderstanding, miseducation, misinformation, things like that. But yeah, it’s been…it was a nice email to get especially after everything and considering where I am right now. I actually medically withdrew from the college last spring, so this time last year. It was for mainly mental health reasons but also because I think at a point your body catches up and is like, “I can’t do this anymore.” And it was pretty awful, my blood pressure just shot down and I was fainting a lot, losing a lot of weight, lightheaded, had no energy, couldn’t walk up the stairs by myself. And so kind of, it was like my body screaming, “Okay you need to take some time for yourself.” That was particularly rough, I think it was a long time coming but actually having to go through with that decision and suffer through that process was something else. I had been struggling with mental health issues since probably senior or junior year of high school, but I think it’s truly an impactful thing when something else and external forces you to take the time to sit down and be like, “Okay, what’s important here?” I’m not saying that education and all this isn’t important — it’s so important, but more for reasons I hadn’t realized initially. It’s become more about the pursuit of knowledge versus the diploma and stamp of approval you get at the end I think. But yeah anyway, I medically withdrew, I took a semester off, and I just came back this spring. So I would be graduating this May but I’m taking an extra semester — thankfully I got away with just an extra semester even though technically it was a year off, since when you medically withdraw, none of those classes from the semester count. But it just kind of opened up a lot of conversations for not only myself but also the people around me and the people who I think for a long time didn’t want to admit mental health was a legitimate thing. My parents in particular, not to say that they haven’t struggled themselves or had to experience any time of turmoil, I think it’s just that the validation wasn’t there. And I know it’s painful to watch someone you love go through things such as this, so obviously I believe that was part of the struggle for them as well. Going through that process though, I realized the lack of advocacy and, honestly, I don’t know, there was just a lack of a comfortable circle that South Asians, or anyone really particularly could talk safely without fear of stigma against mental health if that makes sense. And particularly for South Asians, there is strong stigma, no one really…it was very taboo and shush shush, I know people were whispering but there’s an importance to put all of this there in the open and be like, “this isn’t something that you should be scared to talk about.” That put me in a very vulnerable place.

I’m aware most people would say it would be embarrassing or something they would be scared to confront publicly normally, which I completely understand — it was terrifying to tell my friends and everything and be able to talk about it in the open but I don’t know, I think that’s part of defeating the fear itself is just saying it out loud. I started a blog mainly for me as part of my healing process but also to just put that information and narrative out there and be like, “hey this is something I’m going to talk about candidly and brazenly.” And the blog is mainly geared towards… actually I don’t even know if it’s geared towards South Asians in particular, there are certainly some struggles through discrimination that I’ve had to face that’s in there but honestly it’s a safe space for me and other people to come and read and truly know that this is a real thing that people are going through and I think there is so much… well people underestimate all the freaking time how much strength, support, and just sheer desire to live that can come out of the love another person can give you. It’s just insane. And people don’t understand what sitting down next to someone and just talking to them and saying, “I love you and I’m here for you and how are you?” can do. People just have no idea the power that can hold and so I think that’s part of what I, now moving forward with the things I’m involved in, want to make sure I remind people of, it sounds so cheesy, the power of love. There’s this really good Nelson Mandela quote that I’m obsessed with, “Our human compassion bind us one to the other, not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” So yeah essentially just the fact that people can struggle together and find solidarity in that, which can bring so much to the world. I really am just taking that and moving forward with it through all the work that I do.

So you’ve been able to use your personal experiences to help those around you.

Yeah, for sure. As vulnerable of a position it can put me in, I think it’s so necessary and I’m glad there’s this whole movement developing around vulnerability not being identified as a weakness but rather a strength. I think that’s so important. The moment you let your guard down and let people in…it’s not only a very courageous act of your own but also inspires others to do the same. It’s been several years but it’s been good in that I’m much healthier now and I think us being so young, we take health for granted sometimes. Generally we’re so fit and we think we’re virtually indestructible and can do anything to our bodies but it doesn’t work like that unfortunately. It’s all about the mindset, I go to therapy and everything — another very hush hush thing that people don’t talk about. I was so proud of my friend the other day who I knew several years before was very antsy around the topic of mental health, but just recently he just slipped into conversation like, “yeah I got class and then I gotta to therapy but I’m free around this time if you want to grab dinner?” And inside I was screaming for him! That barrier being broken down. I’m super thankful, finding a therapist and all, it’s like shopping. You don’t always get it right on the first time. Sometimes you have to look around for different providers and see who vibes with you. The one that I recently got after I came back to school is phenomenal and really kind of changed this whole idea of fighting everything in my head to fighting for myself instead. It makes the world of difference when you stop pushing yourself away. That stress builds on itself, right? Like “oh my god I’m freaking out,” you know? “I’m stressing out, so sad, so…” and all? But then when you start to realize why those things are there and appreciate each feeling for what it is, it becomes a lot easier, and as terrible as the feelings are, once you start to appreciate what they’re there protecting you from or what experiences preceded you feeling a certain way it’s like, “oh okay that makes sense, let me take that and move forward.” That also helped a lot. But I don’t know, it’s just…it’s…like I said I’m at a terrible loss for words, I don’t even know how to even begin to…beyond being thankful for being able to sit here and talk to you and be able to put this out there where everyone can read it but the fact that I’m even just still sitting here is a miracle. My freshman year — you know how there was unfortunately a string of suicides — and that was really difficult and one of them was a close friend of mine who was from my hometown and also in South Asian Student Association so I think that’s kind of where the necessity for this, you know, this movement against, you know, breaking the stigma and bringing this conversation out into the open, so I’m, you know…I can’t even say thankful because I wish that’s not what had to happen in order to promote that, but I hope that, you know…thankful for everything that she is and wherever she is now. But I don’t know, do you have any questions? I’m flustered, I’m sorry.

A question that we’re trying to ask as part of this project is, if you could talk to a future woman of William and Mary, what would you tell her in regards to your story and your experience?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know, I guess the biggest thing going along what I was saying earlier is it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, you know? Whether you’re super frustrated that there’s a test at 9 am and it’s 7 pm and you’re freaking out, it’s okay and don’t beat yourself up for being stressed out. If you’re crying about something that seems sort of petty at the moment, I’m sure it’s not. There’s a reason why…I don’t know, I think just …throughout her time here and in the future, to just make sure she’s fighting for herself and not against herself. And I think the William & Mary student, and especially women, we’re so hard on ourselves, you know? We hold ourselves, especially here, to higher expectations than other people hold us to, and it really tends to kick us in the butt, so I think just trusting yourself and trusting your gut instincts because there’s a reason that she’s here, there’s a reason that she’s, you know, feeling and doing the things that she’s doing. She should strive to consistently respect herself and actualize that everything she’s accomplished to this point is more than enough and more than anyone could’ve asked for. So, reach out to your loved ones every day. The best support system is around you. People are there even when you don’t know they are and that’s also something I’ve come to realize. She’s never alone, ever, ever, ever, ever alone. Heck, if she’s listening to this right, just know that wherever I am, there’s me, someone on a corner of the planet that’s there for her rooting for her. There’s so much love to be given and to be found. Hold onto that while you’re here. Yeah, just truly embrace everything that this experience has to give her, the good and the bad. Because it does both. But um, each side is definitely profound. But yeah, that’s the advice I would give a future William & Mary woman.

I think that’s something I’ve found that a lot of people struggle with as well. Even myself, I am from Oregon and so it was really hard for me to come here from so far away. Freshman year was really really difficult for me because I was far from my family for the first time, I was in this place that I didn’t know whether I liked yet. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m majoring in, I don’t know what I want to get involved in, everything is up in the air.” And that was the first time in my life that that had happened to me because my life had been so like straightforward before then, and everything was then turned upside down when I got here. So the first few months here were really rough for me, and I called my parents like every single day and I just cried on the phone and I was like, “I just can’t do this.” And thankfully I had an amazing freshman hall and my roommate was wonderful and I was able to make those friends and those connections to support me through all of that and even since then, like with all the things I’ve gone through here, they’ve supported me. And I think that’s something that, when you first get here freshman year, it’s something that you don’t know is going to happen so it seems like, when you first get here and everything is terrifying, it just seems like it’s always going to be that way and you’re never going to get out of that rut. So I think it’s important for people to know that everything is going to be okay, you’ll make that support system soon, you just have to hang out for a little bit and everything will be okay.

Yeah, and that’s completely understandable, I mean I could not imagine dropping everything and flying thousands of miles away to start completely fresh. That’s amazing to hear that you found such a beautiful home so far away from what you actually knew. Yeah isn’t that crazy though? To think that you could just drop everything and then find people who just get you? It’s absurd. I think people also underestimate the value…again like I said another person’s presence in your life can make all the difference. It’s just like the genuine human compassion, like you can find someone anywhere in any corner of the world and be friends with them if you needed to, which is a nice feeling.

Right, there’s always someone looking out for you.

Exactly, that’s important to remember especially through the tough times here with the school and everything. Yeah it’s…lucky to have found a solid group of friends. That’s why I’m super thankful for SASA and groups like that where you can, you know, bond with people who have the same morals and values and upbringing and struggles and stigmas that they have to deal with, and so…super appreciative for the diverse organizations that we have here that can cater to every type of William & Mary student. But yeah, trying to think if there’s anything else remotely interesting that I can tell you. It’s like overwhelming slightly, you know, like what else could I possibly say? If anything, it’s like me wanting to tell other people to start a conversation with themselves or other people around them, right? Because how much can I say versus who knows what the person sitting next to you while you’re reading this could say to them too. Like anyone could’ve been sitting here and could’ve said something equally as interesting or moving, which I think is a special thing about this, you know? I swear to God in my head I was more prepared for this…I’m trying to think…there are things, they’re just simmering a bit. My little sister goes here, that’s kind of cool. Biological little sister. I would technically be a senior right now and she’s a sophomore. We couldn’t be more different but it’s kind of cool to see like…we’ve gotten a lot closer since we’ve gotten here. And that’s not even something that I wanted to admit, like in my head in theory I would be like, “oh yeah we’ve always been close!” But um…she said that to someone once that we’ve gotten a lot closer and it’s like “wow, I really appreciate that she feels that way” you know? I’ll take it.

Has she looked up to you going through these experiences?

That’s a good question. Good question for her. Maybe I’ll have to sit down and ask. It’s been difficult, right, like um…I think for anyone that loves someone else, it’s really hard to see them struggle so I don’t…I know for sure that it wasn’t easy at all for her knowing that I was in such a tough spot consistently going to doctors and falling down the stairs fainting and also had those mental health things and…I’m very emotional, like I will blurb and tell you everything I’m feeling and will get you to talk about your deepest darkest secrets and how you feel inside, but she’s very…I don’t know if she feels like she has to compensate for that. Like she’s very, you know, needs to hold a little steadier. And so I didn’t initially tell her about all these struggles and everything because I thought she would feel a little awkward about them, which I think she kind of was. She didn’t really know how to navigate the subject which I don’t blame her, it’s difficult. But she learned, and I think that’s very reassuring for me, like if people do have preconceived notions that aren’t necessarily accurate, like stigmas or fears, like genuine fears of starting a conversation about something so sensitive, change to that can be done. I think that applies to more than just mental health. I think, you know, this is the time and age when we’re having very difficult conversations that are making people feel awkward and embarrassed if they don’t know much about what they’re talking about but I think if you approach every conversation with kindness, respect, a buttload of patience, and the right genuine intention, I don’t think there is a wrong way to broach a topic like that. And on the receiving side, I also…it’s been tough for me but I also have to understand that there are plenty of people who aren’t necessarily aware of mental health illnesses and things like that. I think from the receiving side we also have to be patient with those who are unaware but have genuine intentions and want to learn. It’s a double-sided thing and so…I could not have a better sister than her. She’s everything that I hope I don’t become. As in like…wait that didn’t make sense. She’s everything that I wish to be but I’m not. So I know she can aspire to more than what I’ll ever accomplish because she’s just such an incredible person. She’s so strong. Truly my best friend. She’ll be a little shocked to hear that because we rip each other’s hair out every other day but she’s truly…she’s a good human and I appreciate wholesome good humans. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my sister. She’s a part of my good support system. And we’re from Virginia Beach so that’s not far away at all, maybe like an hour away. And it’s just me and her and my parents so the three of them kind of navigating me withdrawing and all the medical bills and expenses has been inconvenient, so I really appreciate that patience that they’ve given me.

Oh yeah, and that kind of support system really makes all the difference.

Yeah, family is everything, you know? But I know people get, which I completely understand, some people get like uncomfortable calling other people that aren’t biological family “family.” Which I totally understand, for some people it’s a very special and sacred word. But I think for me, not that my actual biological family isn’t special, but it’s crazy the family that I’ve found here and in other places. Professors too, like we just don’t realize how much of real people they are, if that makes sense. Like behind the tests that they give and assignments and homework that we think is unreasonable, they have a life. They have struggles. One of my favorite professors here my sophomore year also took some time off for herself, and I look up to her. She went to a phenomenal school for her education and is teaching in what I’m interested in, and the fact that she is so vulnerable and so strong and so resilient and able to take the time off when needed, like this is not…this kind of stress and mental health is not just something that affects twenty-year-olds in college, you know? Being that forgiving and loving to yourself is a lifelong process, which I decided to continue to do. I have to get so much better to myself. It’s so easy to beat yourself up here.

It’s so easy to just compare yourself to others here. We’re surrounded by a few thousand high-achieving people and it’s very easy to get lost in that and to be like, “oh well what did I do to deserve my spot here?”

But that’s like the cool thing, like I’ll meet people and after you get to know them awhile, like you can kind of pick out why they’re here, like what phenomenal thing…like usually one thing will stick out. I have one friend and he could just network the butt out of you. I don’t know how he does it, but just the way he talks, it’s like you’ve known him for years. He just has this incredible quality to make everyone feel so welcome when you’re talking to him. And I have another friend who’s just insanely intelligent. It just takes her no time to process whatever she’s learning, picks things up, knows the mundane little facts and also the big giant theories. And I have another friend who is somehow the most wholesome human I know, she is able to juggle like ten different things so beautifully and is able to maintain all her friendships and all her extracurriculars, is just like the quintessential well-rounded being. So it’s just kinda nice to see…again there’s a reason for why we’re all here. Sometimes you have to be nice to yourself and be like, “okay, let me turn that admiration inwards and be like, ‘okay why am I here?’” you know? What am I bringing to the table? And if I don’t know, let me take some time to delve into that and figure it out. There’s no reason we shouldn’t love ourselves the way we love other people. And it’s hard, I think people always think that self-love and appreciation is something that’s supposed to come so naturally, and you hear people like “you shouldn’t date anyone until you’re in love with yourself” and like that’s totally valid and I get the idea but for people who have self-esteem issues and things like depression and anxiety, that’s not an easy battle. And recognizing that that’s not easy and not beating yourself up because it takes time to reach the point where you can confidently say, “oh I love myself,” you know? So yeah, just being forgiving through that process is so important. You think all those things come easily but they unfortunately don’t, especially when we’re in an area like this where things can be so cutthroat — not as cutthroat as it could be, but still. What do they call it — high pressure makes diamonds or something? I don’t know, I might be making that up. I don’t think that’s a thing either though. People also feel like they can only thrive if they struggle through things but there’s nothing wrong with taking the easier, more “kind-to-yourself” path towards a goal. In fact this is something I’ve been doing some research on, as part of defeating the stigma of mental health in the South Asian community is realizing why it’s there. So there’s a stark difference between…America and more eastern societies. America tends to be extremely individualistic whereas South Asian countries tend to be more collectivist, so…like America is built on, “You can do this, you can do anything, like I got myself here,” very much about the strength of the individual, which there’s nothing wrong with. But in South Asian communities it’s more about the family centered. Whatever you do reflects upon your brothers and your sisters and your parents particularly. So when translating that to stigma when “there’s something wrong with you,” quote unquote, like a mental health illness, the “blame and responsibility” reflects and falls more so on the parents where their internal dialogue is, “what did I do wrong in raising my child?” And I know my parents have felt that too, like “where did we go wrong? Why are you suffering like this?” Not that that doesn’t happen in America, but I think that’s part of where that strong stigma comes from. But like I said, in America, everything is so much more about what you can accomplish as an individual and I think that “the grind-”, you know everyone’s idea where you gotta work hard, you gotta sweat, blood, tears, comes – in order to pursue the American Dream. And so people think that you have to beat yourself up in order to reach the top but I just don’t think that that’s a) fair to yourself and b) how it should really work. We shouldn’t strive for pain in order to birth success. I don’t think that’s healthy. Like what’s the point of getting to the top if you’re barely alive when you get there? It’s so important to be kind to yourself. Especially like now during finals. I usually get a big thing of candy and just go around Swem, starting on third then going to second. Everyone needs sugar, you know? Everyone wants candy. You gotta get the hard candy and the chocolate so that people have the choice because one time I did just chocolate and people were a little disappointed.

They had little baggies of candy the other day in Swem. That was nice.

I saw that! That was so nice. And it’s good that this isn’t the only movement towards health being holistic. *clapping* Round of applause for the Integrated Wellness Center that’s opening next year — I’m so excited for that. It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just something that is just a movement within students, which I appreciate. The whole campus is getting on board and people like Kelly Crace and Mayanthi…I love that woman, Mayanthi, oh my God. Unfortunately she’s leaving William & Mary, but she works in the Office of Health Promotion and she’s just a beautiful human. But people like that you know, they just make the school better. I appreciate them.

Yeah it’s definitely been interesting to see this movement happening while we’ve been here.

Yeah for sure, and again I think some really unfortunate, unnecessary things happened to spur that movement, you know, but nevertheless I’m glad it happened. I always love the doggos. I got a cat, a therapy cat. Let me just highly advocate for cats for a second. Don’t underestimate the power of a kitten, okay? Because it can change your world. I thought I was a dog person. I thought cats were the pet of the devil but they, in fact, are not. I went into the shelter for a dog, came out with my kitten whose name is Leela and she’s the most adorable thing in the entire world. She’s kinda like a dog. She plays fetch. All of my friends reading this are gonna be like, “Oh my God the rest of this interview is going to be about her cat” but I swear it won’t be. But yeah, animals, we just don’t deserve them. We do not deserve them, dude. She’s been a great source of comfort with everything. And where I was going with that is that the school even allows emotional support animals in dorms and stuff which I think is important. I’m not gonna put my cat in a 10’x10’ Jamestown single but it’s allowed if I needed to. I’m living in the gradplex next year so hopefully they won’t be too bad so she’ll have some room to run around. But yeah, definitely support getting cats. They’re just as good as dogs. They play fetch too. Animals and people, they’re equally important.

I live in an off-campus house with some friends, and we recently got two guinea pigs. And they are just adorable and they love to just hangout on your chest and are just happy being there for hours.

Oh my god I want a guinea pig. My cat would probably eat it though.

Their names are Ruth and Cleo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Cleopatra, named after just two strong women. I love it. They just hangout. They are beautiful and amazing…I’m trying to find a good picture of them.

How long ago did you get them?

We got them at the beginning of the semester. So here’s Ruth.

Awww! She’s a little guinea pig!

They’ve gotten huge though. They’ve gained so much weight. There’s both of them. Cleo’s the lighter one.

That’s a wonderful picture! Oh they’re precious.

They’re both so cute! So that’s definitely been a highlight of our semester, having some guinea pigs to hangout with.

I’m telling you, Petsmart is somewhere I frequent often, as well as the shelter that’s here. They’re special. They had buy one get one free for kittens when I got her but I had to prevent myself from that.

Two kittens! That would’ve been a lot.

Yeah, it would’ve been something. Because I was in Williamsburg over the summer scribing after I withdrew, which is another whole thing because I was supposed to be taking the time off for myself to really invest in my health. It didn’t come until later. But anyway, I was alone in a huge three-story house and it was wonderful company having a cat. They’re like babies, you know? I’m a mother now, that’s what I tell my mom. My sister is convinced that my cat is evil but that’s how I feel about our dog at home. It evens out. My dog at home though, he’s a Maltipoo, a Maltese and a Poodle. He’s the most particular, prissy thing in the entire world. He will not walk on the grass. He’ll take the sidewalk everywhere. And by taking the sidewalk, I mean that he won’t go on walks. If I’m going to the mailbox, he’ll follow my around the lawn. Like if I’m walking on the grass he will literally walk around on the sidewalk next to the lawn. And if you try to take him on an actual walk, he’ll get about twenty steps and then stops and sits so you have to drag him the rest of the way. So yeah, they have personalities too. I’m grateful for everything including my cat. Cats and people and food and sleep. Sleep is good too. The four most important things. Sincerely. Are you graduating this year?

Mhmm. It’s crazy. I have like a week?

I can’t imagine. Do you have any things you’re trying to do before you graduate? Any last-minute bucket list things? I need advice for next semester. I have to make sure I squeeze everything in.

I’m really just trying to spend as much time with my friends as I can.

Are you going back to Oregon?

I’m actually going to Boston for the next two years for grad school, and then I’m hoping to go back to Portland after that. So we’ll see, I’m excited. I’ll be studying Computational Biology so it just…it’s really awesome. It’s really overwhelming to think about two more years of school right now, especially during finals. And I have a pretty intensive summer internship so I’m kinda like…trying to figure out when I’ll actually have time to sleep and relax but yeah, it’s exciting! Just a lot going on right now, a lot of moving parts. Yeah I’m just trying to spend as much time with friends as I can, because I don’t know how much free time I’ll have when I’m in Boston to come back here and visit. But it’s tough because I have a full final schedule. So other than that, I really want to spend more time in CW because it’s such a unique thing about here, maybe go out to College Creek a few times since it’s finally nice. I think it’s supposed to rain on Saturday though.

Finding Your Voice through Community

When I first saw the email, I didn’t know this organization existed. And this happens with many many things: shows, performances, and all that.

Well we are a little bit different because we’re technically not a recognized student organization, so we can’t really post or advertise on student websites, so if you search on the William & Mary website for us, you won’t really find anything because the school doesn’t recognize us. We’re currently in the process of getting recognized so that we can get school funding and get a table at Day for Admitted Students or Activities Fairs and things like that, but for right now not a ton of professors know about us, but we have a pretty big Facebook presence, so that’s how most students know about us.

Is it difficult to get recognized? Had you tried before?

Our previous leaders decided against it – they wanted to be separate. But now we are transitioning to wanting some sort of other recognition besides our Facebook page.

And what’s the goal, the aim, the ethos of the organization?

So our mission is to spread love and understanding, so through stories and interviews and pictures we try to show people that everyone matters, everyone’s story matters, everyone’s story not only matters but is meaningful to our whole story as a community, so just things like that. I have loved it. I’ve met amazing people through it, I’ve gotten to just sit down and chat with people I don’t think I would’ve chatted with otherwise. I love it.

And what things have you done?

So in addition to our interviews, we do a lot of projects. So we did one project last year where we handed out disposable cameras to random students on campus and had them pass on the camera to other random students on campus and at the end, once the disposable camera was out of film, we got it back and developed the pictures and just looked at the similarities or differences between what people decided to photograph. It was really interesting and very cool and we put up the pictures in a physical display in Sadler. So just small things like that, and this is probably our biggest project that we’ve done in a while to celebrate 100 years of women on this campus, so through a nomination process we chose 18 women – students, professors, faculty, and staff, 18 for 2018 – to interview and then in the next academic year around September, these pictures and interviews will be displayed in I believe the admissions office and maybe also in the Blow third floor area, and those will be up for quite awhile.

And how did the nominations happen?

We put out a Google form on a Facebook page to everyone, all of our followers. We have about 8,000 followers or so, so quite a large following. And we got a lot of nominations so we had to just parse through them all and we chose the 18. It was a long process to just choose the 18 but I think we chose well.

Well I’m very grateful for this and I’m looking forward to whatever you want to do. I have no problem with time but I don’t want to…I don’t know how much time you have.

Oh I have plenty of time, don’t worry! So this is kind of just open-ended and up to you, just whatever you want to discuss. I’m just here to ask follow-up questions. So I guess I’ll start by asking, how do you see yourself as an influential woman on this campus?

Well yes. In the end it’s what it’s really about, not really being influential or being aware of being influential because I don’t do things because I want to be influential, no. I just want to be close to people and to students and to colleagues also, and share what I can share. I mean it’s not that I have an agenda or anything. But it’s true that I have received thank you notes for many different things. So this is the last thing. I wrote a piece for Ladies of Alpha. They asked me to…if I wanted to write a little piece about how William and Mary had been good to me or something. Have you seen the piece?

I believe so, yes.

So I didn’t do it to make any kind of impact or anything because I think that I’m here so…I want to be here fully. So when I was writing it down I was like, “Well this is what I really want to say,” no? And then I told them when I sent them the email, you know, “this is really oversharing, so don’t publish it if you don’t want, but this is what I have to say.” So then I have gotten some cards saying, you know, “you don’t know how important it was for me to read this.” And then other students have told me in person that they sensed that others, because again we are complicated and very vulnerable and every person expresses himself or herself in a very different way, so I sense that others have also read it. So that’s one thing, for example, which is sort of a big thing. But then, I hope that if I influence people in any way, it’s about caring for others, you know? Because I can teach, I teach Spanish, I teach Spanish film, I teach feminist theory which is very dear to my heart – I really of course have an agenda with that, a very political agenda. But what I hope to leave is, you know, this person cares for me while we were sharing this space together. Because I want to care, and I do care. And I try to help the student in distress, for example, which is not easy because sometimes you are…I mean things are going on but you don’t know. So that’s what I would really like to leave people with, and of course I would love for people to be interested in Hispanic Studies, and do a major in Hispanic Studies. I think it’s very important also for this country, for the US in particular. Hispanic culture is key, so I think that both Anglo and Hispanic people to learn more, I think, in fact I really think, that we work in one of the most important fields because as you are saying, we are hopefully teaching people about the Hispanic culture so that they are really loving the Hispanic culture. These are Anglo students, like the one here Alex who has become to love Hispanic culture through her studies here. And she’s an American girl who’s going to work in the US. So all that is going to make it, again wherever she goes she’s going, to be an advocate for Hispanics and for understanding, no? So that also, of course. I’m glad that I work in this field. And I also assist a lot with the students. The other girl is the president of LASO. So I focus on a lot on community. So for example, we have taught for the first time this semester Spanish for [something] speakers. Amazing class, amazing students. And we are developing a website for the university: the Hispanic portal. So we have created content of all things Hispanic on campus so that everything Hispanic – The Latino Student Organization, Latinx in the Sciences, alumni, Salsa Club, Hispanic Williamsburg – will be on a website and a student who comes and wants to know, “oh what’s Hispanic on campus?” can have the information. But also it’s a way of bringing us together. We were just discussing what else to do, and again, she was saying you know, the example of doing what others groups do – Chinese or Filipino, no? So a day of celebration and showcase and food, etc. I think that’s key. I think that’s key. And I see myself in my department really pushing for that all the time. Really pushing for parties, piñatas, t-shirts. Yeah we didn’t have a t-shirt so some students designed it and we had a party to deliver the t-shirts. So I would say that what I want to do, also, is to create community wherever I go, and to promote the understanding that getting to know Hispanic culture in this country, ultimately of course, to work towards less injustice, no? So that would be one part. I haven’t prepared this so I’m just putting this together, no? That will be one big area. And the other one, and this is the first thing that I really told you because it’s the first thing that comes to mind is caring for people. I want to…again I was writing down “okay I’m gonna…”. I want to get some students at home that I haven’t seen for awhile. For me this is so important. Relationships are so important. Otherwise, why am I here? You know? And not only because I come from another country and I came here on my own, but it’s because it’s the most interesting thing about any experience, no? The people that you meet, the exchanges that you have.

[brief interruption by an admitted student asking questions]

So you would say that your main influences, I guess, are caring for others, showing that you care?

I think it is. I hope also, to have influenced some students in their…I mean it’s nice if someone tells you, “oh I did Hispanic studies because of you,” that would be very nice, but it’s not the first thing I’m going to tell you because it’s not really…you know, to care for others, of course, and to help students in any way possible, no? And so I’ve had a lot of students coming here, well not really lots, but students coming here with issues of depression and anxiety and I’ve gone through that myself very seriously, and being able to share that and to see that you provide a little comfort, because they also provide comfort to me, I don’t know, that’s one of the reasons that I’m here. Yes, comfort and support, but at the same time I also receive a lot because very early, when I meet a student, they stop being a student. The relationship changes. Not that I see students as…once they are not my students, for example, the ones that were here, I see them more like friends than students. Which is not that I want to be a mentor for everybody, no, I want to know what’s going on in your life and I’ll tell you also what’s going on in my life. So yeah, caring for others, building a relationship.

Yeah that’s amazing. I’m sure your students really appreciate having that relationship with you.

I used to stay that still no student has told me “oh don’t be so nice with me!” Because you know, among professors, especially in academia and higher education, you know, many people are interested in the academic part but not as…teaching is not a vocation, you know? I know that for me, it’s really a vocation. For some of my colleagues it’s always tricky to find out what would be the best relationship to have with a student, and they are scared of getting too close, for example, or being too spontaneous. I say, well, I get as close as I can, I get as spontaneous as I can. I hug them because I’m from Spain. And still nobody has told me, “don’t be so nice.” So why would that be a problem, you know? In high school it’s a problem because you need to keep your authority, but not here when everybody’s so respectful and polite. So I really have that approach, and again the students respond very well. Nobody responds badly to that, and then from that you develop relationships and that’s very important. I love it that in further semesters, students keep coming, in a different relationship. So we go and have a coffee or whatever. So for example, some of my closest students are in Sevilla in Spain, and some of my dearest students, and I’m going to Spain in May and I’m going to try and go see them. I don’t know, it’s a way of trying to express what my approach is to this, realizing that not everybody has that approach because I have also been in higher education as a student, and I mean, many professors wouldn’t like that and that’s okay, but certainly I see that we have a little bit of a different approach, maybe closer, maybe more personal, maybe, I don’t know. I also think that you bring to the classroom what you already have. So whatever my life is, is going to show in the classroom. I think that I also pursue that outside of the classroom with my colleagues, with staff.

So what brought you here? You mentioned you used to live in Spain and that you were a high school teacher?

Mhmm, I was a high school teacher in Spain. Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson for us, for my generation, we forget about his mistakes and we just adore Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. It’s true, it’s true. I studied English Literature, and then I had this fascination with the US, so Michael Jackson, and then American culture, and then New York City, and then literature, etc. etc. So I worked for eight years at a private high school in my town. It was a bilingual high school, so I was in touch with many colleagues from the US. And at one point I said, you know, I want to go to the states for different reasons. I hadn’t been able to travel to an English-speaking country even though I had studied English Literature. And I said, you know, the time is coming. And even though in Spain we are very close – everybody lives in the same time and families don’t really like that you want to go live abroad – I think that had been my discourse for so long, that nobody said, “no no no, don’t do it.” So then, again, I learned that I could come to the US, teach not in high school but in college, and then do a Master’s in Hispanic studies. So I applied to that, and I did my Master’s in Iowa, in Iowa City. Are you from Virginia?

No, I’m actually from Portland, Oregon, on the west coast.

Oh wow! From one of the coolest places, after Brooklyn, I must say.

Oh yeah!

Brooklyn is the coolest place on earth, and then maybe Portland. So yeah, so I was there for two years. I loved graduate school. I struggled a lot with life there. I said I want to study, I want to pursue a PhD. I hadn’t thought about it, but it has to be New York. New York, or I go back home. My professors said I should apply to other schools but I said no. It was so clear because you know, we have to trust ourselves, and sometimes we cannot but we have to learn to trust ourselves. And I’m glad I trusted myself. I knew it. Life agreed with me. So then I was accepted to schools in New York, both state and city university. Columbia didn’t want me, NYU didn’t want me – fine they lost a big asset. And I chose CUNY, City University of New York,  because their campus was in the city, and I wanted to be in the city, and I did my PhD. It took me ten years to finish the whole operation, the whole dissertation operation that I thought I would never finish. I had all sorts of crises, issues, all sorts of things. But I was in New York City. So life could be wrong but I was in New York City. That was an amazing thing too, you know? You think like “I don’t know what I want in life, but I know I want to be here, and I am here.” I have this relationship with the city. So I lived there, I consider myself a New Yorker. I hope to go back. But then when I was finishing my dissertation, you know we have to go to the job market and it’s of course it’s not that there’s going to be a job in New York for me. So I applied to many jobs all around the country, and they offered me a position here. I didn’t know anything about William & Mary, I didn’t know anything about Virginia. So I asked my professors, I said, “What shall I do?” I was finishing my dissertation, I hadn’t finished it. And they said, “No no no, you go. It’s a great school.” And I said, “What if I don’t finish the dissertation?” “No no no, you go.” So I came here, and I came here in January 2016. And yeah, it’s changed my life, really.

Would you say it’s been your relationships with students that has made coming here the most worthwhile?

The biggest change in my life has been what I wrote in the Ladies of Alpha. That was a lot for me. That was very very important and very painful and very awful, also, but it’s something that is a very important thing. I wasn’t planning on that. Life just gives you these things. I wasn’t planning on it at all and then it happened and it’s so strong and so traumatic, then going and telling my mother, you know, this person I’m in love with is not a man, it’s a woman. I mean, it’s not easy to say. But at the same time, it was very easy to say. And I’m much freer now. I’m much freer. I understand the world in a different way. That has been so important in my life, that has been key. And then the second thing for sure, has been the relationships with students and with my colleagues, the ones that have become friends. That’s really what, I hope, I can continue those relationships. That has been very very important. Then of course the university has allowed me to teach any course I want to explore things and that’s very good for your CV because once you leave graduate school, usually you have only taught Spanish Language, not literature, not film, and I could do that here. And then I have learned so many things in the professional arena. But really, yeah, it’s people. The people that I have encountered. What I have shared, very very intimate things that I have shared, again it was very painful, this whole process that I was telling you about. But at the same time, I had some students who were very close to me and they were also going through things. And another one, Caitlin, who was in Spain, her father died while she was in Spain, and there was such a big support. And I could share those things with them, and also with some friends here. But I could have these connections because life put us in similar places, no? And some of those who supported me most were students. I mean, two or three, no? But I really have a very, very close relationship with them. Yeah those people are hopefully with me forever. Hopefully. I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

So if you could give advice to future women of William & Mary, what would you say?

What I would say, and what I maybe don’t say but do, is get involved in the community. That’s something I would say to any person, woman or man. You are here…William & Mary or anywhere else. This is where you are now because, you know, many of us are here temporarily and we know it. This is where you are, this is your life now. Get to know the community, the students and the students’ associations, go on trips that Swem organizes, go to other departments’ events, get to know…this is a system that is alive. Try to be a part of it so that you can receive and, of course, give. Then, you ask me, if one is a woman, and fortunately I haven’t experienced sexism. The chairs here have been women while I’ve been here. The program directors have been women. So it’s not that I have a special message for future women of William & Mary. If the future woman of William & Mary is a student, I would say to go and take gender studies classes. Go and take a course about feminism. You have never studied this because you don’t do this in high school. Explore that. Learn about that. Because we really need the education. So that’s what I would recommend to anyone. But if the person coming is an adult, a professional already, you know, I’m not going to tell her to do this, but if it’s a student, that’s what I would really recommend because it’s eye-opening. Some of the students have never heard about gender binary or the difference between gender and sex or so many things and they’re important. You do in life whatever you have to do, but I think it’s very very important. Thinking about women, I don’t know, what would you say now that you’re a senior and you’re leaving?

Oh man, that’s a tough question. I think I am a little bit opposite of you in that I am in the sciences, and so I have faced sexism in my field and it has been tough. So I think if I were talking to a student going into the sciences, I would tell them, “You gotta keep your head up, you are deserving of being here, even though sometimes it might not feel that way.” The sexism in the sciences, not particularly here but just in this country, is hard. So just feeling like you deserved your spot is something that is very important for women to know in the sciences, for sure. But I also definitely agree with you in getting involved with activities, organizations, clubs, departments. Just making your time here worthwhile because this is an amazing place. I’ve loved my time here.

So yes, of course, that’s a key thing and I know it, again in the end the person I speak to is so important. I know it theoretically of course, but it hasn’t been my experience and that’s why it’s not the first thing, but obviously, if you’re a woman in science, that’s key. You know what? In our classes, most of our students are women. In fact, I asked myself, “okay, what name do I have to give a course so that I can get the guys? I want the guys! I want the guys, the athletes. How am I going to bring them?” So I have to work on that, on advertising the courses. So when 23 are girls and only 2 or 3 are boys, even if they are shy, it’s not so noticeable. But obviously if I had one minute to think about it I would say, “raise your hand and speak, from day one, and raise your voice.” And if he’s uncomfortable, no problem. Only through uncomfortable situations do you grow. But please, take the opportunity because this is always the problem for women. As you say, “you belong here” or feeling the right that my voice deserves to be heard. What I have to say deserves to be said, to be told, to be listened to. That, of course, yes. But again, I would say to women and men, you know what I would really say to students? I would say, “get to know the people in your classroom!” I work as hard as I can on that, and I still see students who just go in and go out. Get to know who’s sitting next to you! That’s the most fascinating thing, with differences that you’re going to get from the classroom!

And that’s the thing that’s so special about college too, is that this school brings people from every state and other countries, just different backgrounds, different stories. Getting to know them is important and amazing and beautiful.

And share your talents! Help one another! I don’t know. And get to know your professor! Of course. Talk to your professor! Get to know him or her! If he doesn’t want to have any conversation, fine, but maybe he or she wants that. Build relationships. Not only because we think about networking for the future internship, no, no, no, because that’s the way that you fulfill your potential.

Promoting Pride & Joy

So you’re heavily involved with FYE and being an OA, how is it to be a guiding figure for the freshmen coming in?

I was an OA for three years– my first year I was a freshmen OA for Monroe, and the next two years I was a transfer OA. And I think the transfer OA job is almost more important, because people just forget that transfer students exist, but I think they are some of the most important people in our community. I was originally so nervous to be placed on the transfer and more staff, but it turned out to be absolutely fantastic. A couple of weeks ago the new Orientation Area Directors asked me to speak at the Spring Training for all the new OAsit was a huge honor and very unexpected. I talked about how it was such an honor to be an OA, but also how important it is not to get caught up in the power of the neon shirt. People see the neon and they think, “Wow! You’re important.” I made a point that it’s not the shirt you wear that’s important; it’s about the work you do, the effort you put in to make the new students feel welcomed, and the time you spend having those honest and hard conversations on where our community can improve and what role they can play in that. I think that’s the most important part of being an OA. A lot of people see the hype, which is wonderful because we need to make the new students feel excited, but for me, it’s really about being consistently there for the students. We show up and show them that we’re here for you during the five days, but also that we’re here for you when those five days are over. It’s important to feel like you have an ally on campus, even when orientation is over.

Do you still keep in contact with the people in your orientation groups?

Yes! I see a lot of my students all of the time, a couple of them are in my classes! It’s really nice. Since they’re transfer students and therefore older, a lot of them are in upper classes and are juniors now. It’s awesome to see them on a daily basisone of my students posted on Facebook the other day, she transferred in the Fall of 2016, that she joined the Women’s Chorus right away and said her only regret about being a transfer student is that she didn’t get to spend four years in the Women’s Chorus. I was like, YES, that is amazing and it makes me feel so happy that you have found your place on campus ! It’s all about finding your place and the people that you care about.

So do you have an memorable experiences or something that really sticks with you?

I have so many! You don’t realize that they put you in this role and all of the sudden you are a student leader. But it’s also about learning from other leaders as well. The co-OAs that I’ve worked with and the administration both. I realized that serving as an OA doesn’t mean just leading people, it means reflecting back on your own self and the person that you’ve become, and thinking about the ways you can grow as a leader and a human being at William & Mary. I think that’s the most important lesson that I took away. I can’t think of a single time that was my fondest memory. But I do remember one special moment during training—OAs have three days of training before the new students come where we spend 12 hours a day learning about campus resources and getting to know each other. This past summer, after the second day of training, I came home and thought, “I can’t believe that I get to spend 12 hours a day just thinking about creating a caring community. That is so special!” And the co-OA I worked with was just one of the most fantastic people that I’ve ever met. I didn’t realize how much that new friendship with my co had changed me and motivated me to be my best self.

I looked up to my OAs so much as who exactly I wanted to be, but you forget that all student leaders are human beings who are learning and growing as well. Seeing that growth happen within yourself is the coolest thing in the whole world.

During orientation, how were you able to maintain enthusiasm despite rough times?

There are a lot of moments where you’re like “Oh my god, it’s only 10 am!” However, there are a couple of ways that I get through it. First I’m a big joker—I will make light of anything with laughter, mostly by laughing at myself. It’s okay if you can’t laugh at yourself, but I’m going to laugh at myself and you can laugh at me, too. It brings people a lot of stress-relief when this person is laughing at herself when she messed up and tripped. I fell on my face by tripping on the bricks during Orientation and I thought it was so funny. Everyone was asking if I was okay, and I was like, “I’m totally fine, can we recognize how funny that was?” I have to laugh at myself as a reminder that I’m not perfect. Recognizing that you’re human is also big. Not every moment is going to be joyful, not every moment is going to be full of hype or you carrying a flag around campus feeling proud. Sometimes you’re going to be totally drained and totally overwhelmed. You realize that wow, this is also what these new students are feeling and how any person might feel when they enter a new community. They’re tired and overwhelmed with new information, and they’re trying to make friends and feel comfortable being themselves. It’s so much going on and using that as a point to relate to your students is very powerful. We’re all overwhelmed and we’re all tired, and that’s completely okay. As much as the hype is wonderful, the realism and the down-to-earth-ness of interacting with people individually is even more powerful.

So what brought you to become an OA?

My sister went to William & Mary, she’s four years older than me so she graduated and we just missed each other here. But she has always been the person whom I looked up to, and I used to think that I wanted to be exactly like her. She talked so fondly of when she was an OA and the relationships she formed with people. It’s a way to meet new people and learn about different perspectives on campus. On a totally selfish level, I absolutely wanted that, and on a more selfless level, I had a really hard time coming into college. I called my mom every night crying because I just felt like there’s an image projected of the William & Mary student who was happy, and I wasn’t happy. I hadn’t met my close friends yet and it took a lot guidance for me to realize that it’s not only normal, but it’s healthy not to feel happy all the time, especially at the beginning. It felt like every piece of information was being thrown at me and I couldn’t retain it as quickly as I had hoped. To also have to put on a facade of pure joy and happiness is not human at all. I also felt nervous that I wasn’t going to make people proud. I could’ve really used a dose of empowerment in that moment. Now I know that who I am is worthy of pride, especially who I already was—I already had everything that I needed, and the only person I needed to make proud was myself. Being able to recognize how people are feeling and being able to give them the dose of what I wish I had, that’s what really brought me to orientation again.

What was something that changed your perspective on the situation you were in?

One, realizing that the narratives about the experience aren’t true: there’s no one experience that anyone needs to have. At the beginning, I didn’t really find my place in my freshman hall, but the great thing about that is that it sent me out to campus to join student organizations. That’s where I made my friends and found my home. Realizing that everyone grows at a different pace and everyone adjusts at a different pace is important as well. I’m still learning to accept that for myself. Even with graduation approaching, everyone reacts differently and feels differently about it. In my head, when I came into college, I had an image of the way I was supposed to be and I spent the entirety of my four years here breaking that image down and realizing there is no one way that I’m supposed to be. The way I am is really good enough. Getting affirmation for being the person I was and for being weird and quirky all the time helped a lot, but that didn’t come until later for me. So it was a lot of personal growth, thinking about what self acceptance means on a really personal level.

Wow, I really relate to you when you said because you weren’t close with your freshman hall, you branched out to the campus and its organizations.

I saw it as a cool opportunity because everyone told me I was going to find my home there, and I didn’t, which is okay. I thought, “I’m going to find it somewhere else.” I joined all these organizations which have become the pillars of my William & Mary experience, and I’ve made all of my friends from these organizations.

So which organization(s) did you find your place in?

I spent a lot of my time doing community engagement work as a member of APO, the co-ed service fraternity. I made all of my friends freshman year through APO because they were people who were also passionate about the same things. I also helped start a mentoring program with the Office of Community Engagement and I met people through that, through volunteering with Campus Kitchen, through AMP—I’ve done a lot of different things! I think it’s cool to do a variety of activities because then you’re exposed to a lot of different perspectives. For me, it wasn’t necessarily about being able to say I was a part of 16 organizations, but rather being able to say, “In a couple of fantastic organizations, I met all these amazing people who changed my perspective by being open to sharing their own.”

If there was something you could tell the future Women of William & Mary, what would it be?

The first thing that popped into my head was: you’re amazing! You are worthy and wonderful as you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because you have so much to offer the world, and by existing you are offering that to the world. Everything that you are doing is good enough.

Mathematical Biology and Making Memories

What do you want people to know about you most of all? What is most quintessentially you?

I guess, I would at least hope, the thing that people remember me by is how much I care for people and how I show that care. A few weeks ago, my housemates and I were talking about love languages, and I took this online test and it told me that my love language is quality time and I think that’s very accurate for me. Outside of relationships too, like friendships. I really value just spending time with people, even if it’s just getting coffee with someone once a week, I think that’s how I show people I care about them. I at least hope that I’m successful in that, even if we’re not best friends that spend every day together, just showing friends that I care about them and they matter to me.  

Do you think that’s the reason you joined Humans? What motivated you to join?

I joined as a sophomore, so I had a year on campus, just following the page. I loved it, and always loved Humans of New York from the beginning too. And I think I just applied because I wanted to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met, I think that’s something that’s cool about Humans is that you just start conversations with people and see where it goes, and having a reason to do that, and not just going up to someone randomly and being like, “Hey, I wanna be your friend!” This campus is small , but I’m graduating and I still see faces around campus that I don’t recognize, so I think I was just hoping to join Humans, meet people, and find more familiar faces, start more conversations….

Do you have an interview that sticks out to you the most?

I interviewed my friend Kylie in the middle of last semester. I interviewed her about her haircut, because I had known her last year, and then hadn’t seen her in a few months over the summer and when she came back to school, she had a pixie cut, which was very different for her. So I asked her about that and she had a very empowering story behind it, because her boyfriend at the time, when she brought up that she wanted to get her haircut, he said, “No you won’t look good, I won’t find you attractive anymore if you cut your hair.” She broke up with him, and said I’m gonna cut my hair and I’ll still be beautiful. So she cut her hair and she rocks it, so I think that was an empowering story that you cant let others dictate your life or your decisions, and you have to honestly just do whatever makes you happiest and other people can just deal with that.

So that kinda leads me to ask you about your plans after college. I remember, when you interviewed me as an applicant to Humans, and you said you studied mathematical biology or something like that, and I was like “what the heck is that?” And now you’re going to Harvard, for mathematical biology?

Computational biology, yeah, very similar.

What is that? What brought you to that? How does that create a part of your identity?

I’ve always been really interested in science and math, and I got here, and I didn’t want to do pre-med, because I didn’t think being doctor was what I wanted to do, but I still wanted to do something where I felt like I could help people using my science and math background. And I found the mathematical biology major, and it’s kinda a weird major because it’s hidden. I’m technically an interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in CAMS, with a concentration in mathematical biology so it’s several layers deep. I’m really interested in personalized medicine where you sequence someone’s DNA, because people respond differently to drugs and treatments, and the thought is that it’s just because of our DNA. So, the whole idea behind personalized medicine is that if you can see someone’s entire genome, you’ll be able to find the specific parts that would respond to the treatment, so you can figure out which treatment would be best so you don’t have to try a bunch of different treatments to find what’s best and by then, the patient may be in a worst state then they were to begin with because all this time has passed and they haven’t even gotten a treatment that’s worked. So that’s what I’m gonna be involved in for the next two years at Harvard and probably what I’m gonna write my thesis on, which is crazy to think about. I think my whole goal in life is to be able to help people and I don’t wanna be just stuck in a lab forever, I wanna have some sort of connection with people, so going into personalized medicine I would get to help people, I would see the change that I’m making with the patients that I see while still doing research and having a foot in both fields.

Was there ever a time in your college career where you were like why do I know I wanna do this?

The reason that I decided to do personalized medicine over straight research happened last summer. I had this internship that I was super excited about and it was great in the end. I was doing research and I was in a room with no windows with three other people every day all summer. It was great and I learned a ton, but I really craved more human connection. I think that was a tough time for me, because I was like “Wow, I don’t enjoy this, what am I doing with my life? I’ve spent the last 21 years studying this topic that now, I find kind of boring.” I think I just had to revisit my goals, and rethink what I wanted to do, because up until then I just thought I would do into research.

Are you excited for Boston? Have you ever been to Boston?

I’ve been to Boston a few times. I’m so excited.

I feel like that’s very different from Oregon?

Portland, yeah. It’s different. I was considering moving to New York City after this, I was given a job there, so I was kinda set on going there, which is even more different than Boston. So now going to Boston doesn’t seem like too crazy of a step. There’s so many schools there, so the average age is pretty young. I’ve met a couple people from my program and the school so far, and they seem so great and so passionate about what they do. They are so intelligent and the professors and the researchers there are amazing, so I’m very excited. It’s gonna be a fun two years, it’s gonna be a lot of work, but fun.

Tell me about your best friends from William & Mary.

They are all my housemates, I live in a house with 8 other girls, 7 of us are Kappa Deltas, 2 of them are not. I kinda went through a phase my junior year, because I had a lot of friends who were graduating. All of my friends were seniors, they were going to be leaving, I didn’t know what to do. I signed on to live in this house with all of them, it has been just amazing, we’ve all gotten so close. I wasn’t close to them before, but now we spend so much time together, both inside the house and out of the house. We’re going strawberry picking next week, we took grad photos together. We took some pictures on our couch because that’s where we hang out all the time, even though it’s a three-person couch. We just kinda squeeze in and spend all our nights there, and mornings, I was on that couch for like 6 hours today. I went into this year where I thought I wasn’t gonna get super close with them, and my house was just gonna be somewhere I slept, but it’s truly become my home and being able to live with friends that I absolutely adore and want to spend all my time with has been life-chaining. I’ve made lifelong friends in this year.

What is it about them that you’re so drawn to? How do you admire them?

I live with 8 different girls and they’re all different, but also similar in so many ways. They’re all very hardworking and very passionate about what they do and choose to get involved with. Like Ariel, I’ve gotten super close with, she’s just so driven and so caring and kind. She has so many friends throughout all these nooks and crannies of campus, which is reflective of her personality, she’s just so friendly and kind to anyone she meets that literally, anyone she talks to will become her best friend. I was at Cheese Shop with her and a couple other housemates a few days ago, and she just started chatting with a stranger and we just chatted with them for 10 minutes while we waited for our sandwiches, and that’s so reflective of her personality because she can just talk to anyone and makes them feel heard and valuable. That’s Ariel, and then there’s Beth, who’s just amazing. She’s known her life that she wants to be a teacher and she works so hard towards that goal, and she’s so passionate about equal pay and higher wages for teachers and is really fighting for that cause, and it’s cool to see that in her. I could just go on and on, and it’s really sad that we’re all gonna be in such different places next year.

Does it feel weird to be a real adult now? Going out into the world? Do you even feel like an adult?

Compared to freshman year, I definitely feel like I have gained so much more knowledge and independence and everything, but I still don’t feel like a total adult. My parents still have to help me with my taxes, I FaceTime my mom all the time when I’m cooking, or I’ll FaceTime my dad and have him help me with my math homework sometimes. I’m not fully there yet, but I don’t know if I want to be. I don’t wanna be a full-blown adult yet in my life, I just wanna have fun. I think it’s important to have responsibilities and do all that boring stuff, but still have fun, and hang out with your friends at midnight when you should be asleep…

I went through a really rough phase in sophomore year when I was just so stressed about school and everything happening in my life. It really took a toll on me, and even my physical health. I started getting cold sores, and they were so painful and I got them just because I was so stressed. That really taught me a valuable lesson, that yes, grades are important, but to a degree. I’ve gotten into Harvard and I have four or five C’s on my transcript. It’s important to a degree, but at some point, you have to realize that grades are not everything. And if you do wanna go to grad school, that’s awesome, but they look at more than just your GPA. It’s not something you should kill yourself over, or get cold sores over. It’s important to hang out with friends and have that quality time. Don’t hole yourself up in Swem seven days a week to get an A in a class, when you could just get a B and be happy.

To that point, is there anything about William & Mary that you would want to change or help improve?

I definitely would want to change the stress culture here. During my four years, I’ve definitely seen it get better, because it’s something that’s talked about more now. People say don’t spend the night in Swem during finals, they say spend time with your friends, take time to get an actual meal, things like that. I still think that there’s work to be done. People here are so talented and driven, and I think people just feed off of each other. People think “I wanna be more like this person, or this person, and that means I have to study more hours for this test,” and I think it’s important to realize you are your own person. It’s okay to be stressed, that ‘something that’s gonna happen many times, but it doesn’t have to be competitive. Sometimes people are like “I studied this many hours for this test, hahaha, I’m better than you,” and that’s just not how it works.

If you were to give a One Last Thing Speech, what would you say? What would your theme be?

I guess the whole thing of One Last Thing is to give advice to people, so I guess I would say just show people that you care. Show people that they matter and they are valuable in your life. Because it really can change someone’s outlook to know that someone cares about them. Even something as small as sitting with someone in Swem and studying with them, can at least lift someone’s spirit for the day, because at least they’ve seen a friendly face.

How were you able to figure that out? Were you able to find that perspective through experiences or do you think that mentality has always been within you?

I think it’s always been a part of what I try to do, but especially in sophomore year, when I was having such a tough time, it really meant a lot to me when my friends reached out and checked in and made me eat dinner with them. When I looked back on sophomore year, it was something that really changed my outlook, because I was so stressed about everything happening in my life at that point. So having people who cared about me and who showed me they cared about me really changed everything for me. So now I try to pay it back and do it for others.