Letters to the Editor
November 16, 2006
**An inclusive community**
**To the Editor:**
During its history, the College has made a number of policy changes to become more accessible to all Virginians. Starting with the creation of the United States, the College eliminated two discriminatory aspects of its original charter: its practice of purchasing Native American boys as slaves and training them to be Christian ministers and missionaries and its requirement that professors declare adherence to the 39 articles of Anglican Christianity. In 1906 the College became a public institution and thereby became more welcoming to lower-income students. In 1918 it opened its doors to women and in 1963 the first black undergraduate student was admitted to the College. Late last month, the College took another step in this inclusive direction: it removed the cross from the Wren Chapel at secular events. Just as it did earlier in its history, the College had the courage to recognize and eliminate policies that privileged Anglicans over other prospective employees and white males over other prospective students. Now it has recognized and eliminated a policy that privileged Christian religious symbols over those of non-Christian members of the College community.
p. As a historically religious space, the Wren Chapel is uniquely qualified to host events that build community and encourage connection to something greater than one’s self. Most of the events held there, whether religious or otherwise, seek to do just that. Unfortunately, because it is the only such space on campus, the College must balance the Wren Chapel’s many roles, ranging from a tourist attraction to a location for non-religious events to a Christian space to a religious space for non-Christian students. President Nichol’s recent decision certainly strikes a much more even balance between the first three roles. It not only shows that the College continues to respect the Wren Chapel’s history, but it also demonstrates that the College still meets the religious needs of current Christian students by having a cross available when the Chapel functions as a church. In addition, as President Nichol said in his message to students, the decision shows that the College supports non-religious events by “celebrating our happiest moments, marking our greatest achievements, or finding solace during our most profound sadness.” The College does an admirable job of meeting an important challenge to state schools: it supports events with these goals in mind and upholds Constitutional safeguards by not creating a religious establishment.
p. However, the College still has a good deal of work to do before the Wren Chapel’s fourth function is fulfilled. For a number of reasons, most notably the limited hours in which student groups can reserve space there, the Wren Chapel is still largely unusable for the most important weekly prayers of the Jewish and Islamic traditions. As the College continues its history of taking bold steps to make itself more inclusive, I hope that it will find a way to meet this fourth need, perhaps by having a Torah or prayer mats, in addition to a cross, available upon request. While there is still room for improvement, this recent decision has articulated aspirations for diversity and serves as a truly heartening continuation of the College’s long history of striving to be an inclusive community.
p. **__— Rachel Metz, ’06__**
**Administration needs to clean up its act**
**To the Editor:**
p. I thought I had lost my ability to be shocked by this College and Commonwealth’s employment policies. I remember arriving here thirteen years ago and meeting housekeepers still earning $6.50 an hour after 20 years on the job. There was the housekeeper who was told she could no longer attend GED classes on her lunch hour because she might take too long to return to work, though she cleaned the building directly across the road from the Adult Education Center. Or the summer the Board of Visitors announced a new “Campus Wide Minimum Wage” of $8.50 an hour, which only applied to new hires during a hiring freeze. There was the year the state ran out of money, so it announced it would pay everyone a day late each pay period until we all lost a pay check by the end of the year. This is what we get for living in the state with the second lowest unionization rate in the country (North Carolina is first).
p. I really thought I’d seen it all. But now our beloved College is doing away with the weekend. Yes, because students and their parents complained that the dorms get too grubby over the weekend, housekeepers are being required, as of January 16, to work a half day on Fridays and a half day on Saturdays. Can you imagine telling the faculty they’re losing their two-day weekend? Hell no! But a few black women at the bottom of the wage scale? Too bad if they’ve got kids or grandkids to take care of or if they supplement their paltry salaries with a part time job. Maybe they just like to sleep in, go for a stroll, or volunteer at their church.
p. Oh, and sorry, but no one is offering to pay for the extra gas it will take to come back to campus an extra time from Newport News, Petersburg and the other far-flung towns where many of the staff live because Williamsburg is too expensive. “The staff will be expected to pay for their own gas just as they do when they work six and even seven days in the summer months,” says Deb Boykin, the Director of Residence Life in a November 13 email to me. That’s mandatory overtime, by the way. Another little Virginia surprise.
p. Boykin says that the dorm housekeepers chose to give up their two-day weekend, that they were given other options. But the option they rejected would have given them a Thursday / Sunday “weekend”, which is also not a choice for anyone with family responsibilities, let alone a life outside of work. The College did not offer overtime pay for weekend work or offer to hire more staff to solve the problem. There are not enough funds to do so, according to Boykin. Nor did the options include putting out more garbage cans or suggesting to students that they keep things tidy over the weekend. As my 13-year-old put it, “aren’t college students supposed to be learning how to take care of themselves?”
p. What I told my son is that, while students at the College may be slobs, their hearts are pure. I’m positive that if they knew what the Office of Residence Life had in store for the housekeepers who work in their dorms, they would never have requested that the dorms be cleaned over the weekend. They might have demanded that the College find a way to pay for additional staff or put up job wheels like the RAs in Landrum. I just don’t believe they’d be as callous as this College’s employment policies.
p. Sitting here in my messy house, I’m just waiting for the next chapter in the annals of the College’s labor relations. What will it be? I’m sure we’ve already had sweatshops producing university apparel so it can’t be that. I know! Child labor in the Caf! Rumor has it some kids may be available on Saturdays as of January 16.
p. **__— Cindy Hahamovitch, Professor of Labor History__**
**Another view of the Chapel’s history**
**To the Editor:**
p. Unfortunately I only have 400 words to point out the mistakes of many professors’ letters to the editor in last week’s issue, so here it goes:
p. Professor Melvin Ely said, “But my God has no country; my study of history tells me that people who believe He does have wrought untold death and destruction over the centuries.” Well, my study of history tells me that atheist — Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist North Korea, the French Revolution and many others — have brought on destruction over the centuries and at the present. So maybe we shouldn’t be attributing actions seen throughout history to religions instead of to the people looking for one excuse or another for their actions.
p. As for the religious freedom argument and the College being a part of the state, both are true yet neither proves the point. The Supreme Court has a fresco of Moses with the Ten Commandments, the president is sworn in over a bible, congressional sessions are opened with a prayer and Congress even has a chaplain. A cross in a historic chapel does not endorse Christianity and colleges are not bound by the same restrictions as other bodies of the state. Perhaps one of the reasons President Nichol didn’t try to make the First Amendment argument is specifically because he is a trained lawyer and knows how weak a case he would have.
p. The argument that the cross was not originally part of the Wren Chapel is a fair reason why it shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but it does not defend President Nichol’s decision to remove the cross. His statement only talked about making the Chapel welcoming to all, which is a fine goal. But religious arguments are not relevant to the decision because we are no longer a religiously affiliated college. By making a large portion of the campus feel unwelcome through an action that seems to have a negative view of religion, I find his statement as an amusing irony.
p. Other than President Nichol, who actually had a problem with the cross being in the Wren Chapel? Historically, it is a chapel and, even when used for a secular service, it is still designed as a chapel. Does it need to be redesigned, have the organ removed, the altar taken out and the pews rearranged so other signs of its Christian origin are removed?
p. **__— Eric Goldman, ’03__**