From Charter to Diversity of History

What are your first associations with the Charter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you start thinking critically about the Charter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adapting to Change

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

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

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

From three schools to 100 majors

Anna 02cAre you a history major?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you visit the surrounding colonial areas, like Yorktown?

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

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

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

How do you want history to shape your life?

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

So you like to do research?

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

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

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

What would be your dream historical place to visit?

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

So what does the Charter specifically mean to you?

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

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

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

Did you see the original or one of the copies?

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

Building this community

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

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

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

What does Charter Day mean to you personally?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Free

I don’t really want to spend my whole life writing about things that other people have written about. I love writing, but it’s getting repetitive. Everything that can be said about “Hamlet” has been said about “Hamlet.” I feel like there needs to be new material. You’d think someone would have written something better than “The Scarlet Letter” at this point. So I think there’s definitely a place. It would be nice to be one of the people where your stuff is taught. But I think you sort of need to break out and try that on your own. J.K. Rowling didn’t come up with the concept of Harry Potter in high school. She didn’t follow the established protocols of learning other great authors. She just sort of wrote it, on a napkin. So I think it would be really cool to write something that other people have to—not have to—but people will study and learn about in the future.

Past and Future

Brenna 03

Favorite part about William and Mary?

“I would say maybe just the history of the campus. Walking around and realizing so many great people went here. The historical element with Colonial Williamsburg not too far away. This idea that so much of what makes America what it is today happened right here.”

Are you a history major?

“I am not, public policy, so close enough.”

What drew you to public policy? What is your dream?

“I’m really interested overall in this intersection of Black people, marginalized communities and the environment, so understanding how Black people interact with nature, the environment and space as a concept of public policy. When you think about environmental racism, the most marginalized communities are the ones who accrue that most environmental costs. I want to mitigate that, and I can do that through policy and government intervention, so why not major in public policy where I could do that.”

Be happy, life is short.

Brenna 05If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people what would you say?

“Be happy, life is short.”

What are some ways you embody that?

“I was very focused on academics until freshman year. I would get caught up in all the competition, comparing myself to those around me. It wasn’t good, so I’ve been trying to get rid of that [mindset]. I used to have the mentality that having fun is a waste of time and that self-denial is good for success. But I realized I am going to die one day. If I’m not happy through the journey, then what’s the point? It’s hard to maintain that, but I’m trying to work out more and spend more time with family and friends, and doing my hobbies.”

History Means Something

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

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

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

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

Does the Charter empower religious groups today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you think we are celebrating Charter Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Birthday Girl

IMG_3501What did you do this snowy weekend?
It was actually my birthday weekend, which was fun. I turned 21. I have a ton of family members reaching out to me and asking me what I did for my 21st birthday, and I told them that I essentially sat in my friend’s room and ate ice cream with them but I don’t regret any of it. It was a fun time. I tend to have the most fun when I’m with people I care about, so it was a really good birthday.

The Sledder

How was your snow day?

I’m a big believer in the senior – or now grad student – bucket list. I love snow and sledding and had never been out to sled in the CW golf course. When the snow came down, I knew I would be able to cross it off my list. I’m also a big believer in impromptu fun and living in the moment, so naturally I didn’t warn anyone Allison 01b- The Sledderabout my plans. Ultimately, four friends joined me to sled and it was an incredible time. Armed with a sign we found and a piece of siding from Ace, we went all over the course, spending nearly three hours taking on the hills. I love this school, and I’m so thankful that it’s full of people who will live every moment with me.

What is your favorite snow-related childhood memory?

There’s a big gully in the woods behind the house where I grew up. The gully was amazing for sledding. Every time the snow came down, friends from the surrounding neighborhoods came to my house to sled. It was just a given: snow day means Heather’s house. You start at the top of a hill, go around a corner, weave through some trees, and then end in a creek at the bottom. We would form trains or sled standing up or with people lying on top of one another. That’s why I still love snow days and sledding so much now. It means I get to gather my friends and just forget everything but living in the moment.

What do you love about W&M’s campus during winter?

I love how this campus never sleeps, not even when it’s freezing and the snow has turned to hail to sleet to frigid rain. When the snow rolls in, you really get to see the creativity and spirit at this school. People sled in trash bags, on pans, on their stomach. The Sunken Gardens become an art gallery for snow sculptures. I love how this campus just forgets everything and lives for fun when the snow comes down.

The Happy Song

The Happy Song“Our first Homebrew, for the finale we let anybody who had an instrument or wanted to just dance or sing or jam come up onstage. We played ‘The Happy Song’ and everybody just brought so much energy and made it so much fun. It was an improvisational song, just three chords, screaming at the top of our lungs.”

“Jamming is the moral foundation of our life.”

“It’s a conversation, people can jump in whenever they want, people can leave whenever they want. As long as you’re talking about something, and not hurting anybody with your message.”

“Rock on William and Mary.”

Guardian of the Bay

guantanimo bay dude

“I worked at Guantanamo Bay for 13 months. Was it right? Was it wrong? I don’t know. That’s political. It was a thing I had to do. I worked in the mental health ward. I can’t tell you specifics – they gave us a security briefing on that. There were some good times, and there were some bad times. It was just a job. It was where I was. I could have just as easily been in Hawaii.

I worked with people as close as I am to you. They had no problem with telling you that they wanted to kill you. You remember the Stanford Prison experiment? I was living it. It was all about having power over people. Some people had it, and others didn’t.

The biggest take away I had was being patient with people. If you treated them nicely, they had no reason to be angry with you. So that’s what I did. The cell mates didn’t just sit there: they laughed, they learned English from us. You know how religion is 50, 60, 70 percent of our lives? Everything they did was based on their religion.

I think it was hardest on my wife. I was busy. She was worried about my safety, but I couldn’t tell her things. I’ve never considered the possibility of going back there again.”

The people who are with me

12307959_860849810680564_6941939432342511555_o“My Dad always says, ‘The people you start out with are not the people you end up with.’ You come to college and you want to be friends with everyone and do everything because it’s new and it’s shiny and it’s anything. At the end of the day, you’re going to meet a ton of people. They’re going to show themselves, and they’re going to prove themselves. They’re going to be with you, and those are the people you’re gonna contact with down the road. You might not talk to them for a decade, but when you see them you’re still going to be good friends and talk for a day. I try really hard to maintain my friendships, but if people change, people change, and that’s okay. I just keep in mind that there are people who are going to stay with me, but it’s not always the people you were best friends with freshmen year. “

“My mom talks a lot about seasons and cycles. Things change so quickly here. One semester will look dramatically different from the next one. People come and go studying abroad. There really is not routine here, even if people have a class schedule and regular meeting times. Each day varies so much from the one that came before it. I am not able to thrive if I’m holding everything like this. I just need to be open to get thrown around a little bit by the things that happen here. I know that there’s social padding around me that can sustain that. I can get knocked into you, and I’ll be fine.
I think more so than any other time in my life, I’ve realized the people who are with me. Coming to college, I wasn’t concerned about making friends because I’ve never had that issue before, but I was concerned about having a lot of people who didn’t value, didn’t put the same value in friendships or define friendships the way I do, which is a very high bar. If I call you a friend, for me, it’s like if I had my 15 minute phone call and you were the person I would call and I knew you were going to pick up I’m not saying I’ve been in jail, but I’ve had some moments in college where something was going on, maybe I wasn’t in the position to call anyone, but my friends came through for me. They showed up. Usually it was even before I began to think of them in that way. Without forcing a test on them, they just showed up.”

Speak (write) out

What are you doing here out by the lake?

“I am actually writing for W&M Speaks. It’s officially up and running, and we’re excited to see people start sharing their stories. It’s weird to have to now turn and share mine, and sort of put myself out there as well.

“I joined the Mental Health Branch [of HOPE] both for the desire to answer a lot of needs I saw firstly on campus but also needs I saw in myself. I don’t know, I think shattering the misconception that those of us who are part of these organizations or who speak out, we do so from a place of experience. We do so because we are not perfect either. I don’t know is that makes sense.

“I think we [in the Mental Health Branch of HOPE] all come from a place of wanting to create change and wanting to empower other people to create change in their own lives. It has been really interesting seeing the way in which we all sort of bring different things to the table, but having that same base core desire enables us to use our different skills and talents in a much larger way than we would be able to individually. So, that’s been amazing to see come to fruition. ”

Can I ask why you came down here to Lake Matoaka to work?

“I am a writer, and I have always loved water. It’s a huge thing for me. It’s actually sort of weird that you would ask that, though. I actually came down here for a very specific reason in that my favorite band broke up five days ago – Dry the River, there obscure. It’s awful, but all the same they had this really tangible effect on me. They had a habit of releasing albums when I felt like I needed something new in my life. So they broke up. One of their songs is called ‘Vessel,’ and I ended up getting it tattooed almost a year ago today. It felt right to come down here. You know – vessel, water, boats and everything – to just sort of see that and work through those feelings. Think about time passing, a lot of pretentious writer stuff.”

Your morning Jo

“It’s really nice first thing in the morning because we’re the first people students see since they want their cup of coffee to get going. It’s nice that we start off their daily routine. Throughout the day you see the students get more tired, or the ones who are just waking up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, who are about to go to their first class. It’s nice seeing the students when they’re not stressed, but you can definitely tell when they’re in line and they’re stressed; they have bags under their eyes, and just want that cup of coffee. But it’s especially nice towards the end of the night because people get really friendly, like, they understand that it’s been a long day. So, it’s nice seeing the transition to the late students.

“I know sometimes we’re super tired when we first open, so we’re not super outgoing. It’s definitely hard to have a really perky mood at 8 o’clock in the morning when students come through. They just want a cup of coffee, and ‘have a nice morning.’ They don’t want to deal with anybody who’s rude like you can find at other places, like what happens at Starbucks.”

A Place for Us

“I knew coming into college that I wanted to find a group for black students or minority students. Now I’m now in a group where everyone is really welcoming; it’s a very inclusive group of young women. It just reaffirms my belief that even though we are the minority at this school, there is still a place for us and there will always be a place for us.

“Recently, we talked about Raven-Symone’s comments on not hiring people with ‘black-sounding’ names and what that meant for each of us, and how we can combat that and make sure other people don’t feel the same way. We do stuff on campus – we were in the homecoming parade and we are putting together a discussion on black aesthetics. It’s basically a safe space for all of us and it’s all for women of color, no matter how you identify, just to talk.

“There are historically black sororities and fraternities on campus but they aren’t given the publicity that all of the other predominantly white sororities are. So I know in that regard, there’s a pretty large disparity. The spaces that black people have created on campus…I don’t know if it’s maybe less funding or just not being given the notice on campus that other organizations have. I know that’s pretty touchy though. But as far as interpersonal relationships, I think everyone is respectful. And if there are ignorant people on campus, they aren’t the majority. In terms of the student body and how we deal with diversity, I think we’re really good.”

The Little Things

“It was the morning of Hurricane Joaquin and I decided to take a walk through CW to cheer myself up, and to escape from my house. I stopped at Aromas to have coffee, and this lovely old man that was sitting near me turned to me and says, ‘How can you be so happy with everything that goes on in a college student’s life?’ At first, I didn’t know what he was saying because I wasn’t very happy at the moment, I wasn’t radiating happiness, I was probably radiating stress because it was in the middle of midterms. I thought, okay, I have to answer his question, he seems like a very nice, friendly person. So I thought about it for a bit and then said, ‘I think you have to find some little thing in your day that brings joy to you. Because there is always something every day to be grateful for whether it’s seeing your best friend on campus and running up and giving them a hug, or a phone call from your mom saying I’m making your favorite dinner tonight and saying, I wish you were here. I don’t know, there are just so many little things that if you choose to see as happy, can change everything.’”

“Third Culture Kid”

What was it like living abroad for most of your life?

“For me it was normal. It’s because that’s where my frame of reference is. Moving back to the United States for high school was very different. I had culture shock which is funny because I look American and I sound American. But culturally I didn’t fit in.

“I am what you call a “third culture kid,” which means my cultural identity is a mixture of my home culture which is the US, my passport country, and my host country which was China. So in that sense I can fit into both but I don’t belong in either. So I never quite fit in here in the US. And I clearly don’t fit in there.

“All my moves have been growing experiences. I have lived in China for fourteen non-consecutive years. The community I lived in was very transient. You know someone would stay for about two years, but you afterwards you can’t guarantee it. So it changes the way you look at life because you don’t take timing for granted. Here at college is the first time I know I am one place for four years. And for me that was a very, very odd idea. To be able control my life like that. It almost doesn’t feel real.

“Being a third culture kid impacts the way I view things, in terms of relationships, friendships, or whatever. I’m thinking “Oh man we only have so many years together, I am like ‘we need to be best friends now.” But for people who didn’t necessarily grow up in that context, they don’t always feel that same sense of urgency. Sometimes I’ll meet another third culture kid and I will hit it off and by day two we will be talking about our deepest fears. But for someone else we might not get to deepest fears until like year two of the friendship.  It’s just a very different way of approaching things.

Looking Back

11850624_828771703888375_9207795482926306057_o.jpgJordan, Class of 2008.

“I came here as a transfer student in 2005. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I ended up as a chemistry major.”

“The biggest thing that shaped where I am now is the fact that I never knew that I really wanted to teach. It wasn’t until I graduated with my PhD that I had a chance to stay around in Ann Arbor and teach organic chemistry this January. I got into the classroom and I loved it. It was incredible. It was the first time in my life – I was almost thirty years old, but it dawned on me. I think I finally figured it out. Through a number of events I found myself right back here at William & Mary teaching. This is literally a decade later that I took CHEM 103 with Bob Pike in the same lecture hall. I’m now teaching CHEM 103, the same class that started me down the path of being a chemistry major here. How many people get to go back to their alma mater, change places in the classroom and now be the teacher? It’s incredible. And I’ve had a blast thus far.”

“It doesn’t stop in the classroom. My current colleagues, they were Professor Harbron, Professor Rice, and Professor Abelt. Now they are Elizabeth, Gary, and Chris. It takes a little bit of getting used to. These were the people who shaped my experiences here at William & Mary. And now I’m back here, in the position where I can do the same thing. It’s bizarre but it’s also really fun.”

Chinese Identity

11952736_824793884286157_4439205637261671805_o“When we as international students come to the United States we always experience this very profound cultural shock, a shock of cultural disjunction. That experience can very much be applied to minority groups in America as well. A lot of people would think that America has this constitution and American history is a constant rewriting of that constitution, ‘re-constitution.’ Minority groups can draw their inspiration from this ideal of Constitution, to expand their rights, to realize their own identity. It’s almost like hip-hop, sampling upon the original music and you can create something transformative and new. But I think the problem with this ideal of Constitution is, what if it is not something transcendental, objective, neutral, bias-free. What if the Constitution is a historically contingent product, written by certain group of historical actors at a certain period of time? What if that group of historical actors are composed largely of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants? What if the Constitution is fundamentally infused with and penetrated by Protestant ethics and Enlightenment mentality? Then the minority identity, the international identity, the cosmopolitan individual that arises from it is deeply problematic, because we have to fashion our own identity within this framework.

“I’m not advocating for a very conservative approach, where you want to revive something simply because it is no longer flourishing or not in the same condition as before, where you simply want to combat the dominant discourse. What I’m trying to suggest is you have to engage in a creative transformation of the past. You have to critically reflect upon it and appropriate from it. The problem with the modern Chinese right now, not only with the students but also intellectuals and everybody, is after experiencing the May Fourth Movement and socialist experiments like the Cultural Revolution, those iconoclastic movements, we now suffer from a historical amnesia, a very profound cultural, spiritual emptiness. Without that sympathetic understanding of our own tradition…tradition lives through us as a very thin cultural fabric. It’s almost like a cultural residue from the past. I think it is very necessary to cultivate an understanding of one’s tradition. Otherwise we just live under its shadow. To me, the Chinese identity simply flows through my consciousness whether I acknowledge it or not. It’s omnipresent. It’s forever there. No matter I want to deny or uphold my Chinese-ness, it’s always there. It’s what shaped my past, constitutes my present, and projects into the future.”

Tea Across Pacific

“I have worked as a flight attendant for 30 years now. You never take anything for granted when you are doing this job, because if I didn’t have this job, it would cost me thousands of dollars to travel this far. Of course when you get older, you get to pick better schedules. I now choose to fly Shanghai three times a month because I like the city. Every trip we get to stay in Shanghai for 24 hours. During winter I like to come out of my hotel, hop on a bus, and go into old Shanghai. Every time I would see this old lady baking nuts on the roadside and I would always get a big bag full of them. Over time she becomes someone that I know of and she once offered me tea.

BEN_5049“I do pay attention to people on the plane. For example, this time of the year you see a lot of young Chinese kids, aged ten to thirteen, going back and forward between China and the U.S., sometimes stopping in San Francisco or the Mid-West, eventually reaching New York City. But in January many students’ grandparents would come and visit their grandchildren. Because it is such a long trip they would usually stay for a month or so. For the kids they are preoccupied with their electronic devices. They speak English and have come back and forth several times. But for the grandparents, it might be their first time travelling this far in their lives. You can always spot them. They don’t speak English and they sometimes have these huge sheets with phrases like ‘May I have some water?’ written out by their family to help them through the trip. When they come on board the airplane and I have to check their documents, I can see the apprehension in their eyes. But then I would always brew some tea back here and give it to them once they settle down for the long flight. Tea is the best ice-breaker in the world. They don’t expect me to make tea for them, but when I hand it to them I can just see all the tension on their face dropping. Although not being able to speak English is a big barrier, communication is still possible through kind acts like that.

“The reason why I do this is that seeing them reminds me of myself when I was little. I didn’t grow up in the United States. I grew up in the Virgin Islands and came to the U.S. at a very young age, just like these Chinese kids. When their grandparents come they are just like my own family. I want them to feel that everything is good, there’s nothing to worry about, and they can fully enjoy their time with their family.”