For town and gown, politics differ
April 3, 2007
There exists a stereotype that the College community tends to be more liberal than the Williamsburg community, but opinions differ on whether this impacts town and gown relations.
p. Administrators and professors who live in the community are less likely to believe that the ideological gap between the College and Williamsburg is important. Students are more likely to sense a gap that affects relations.
p. “The only thing that I’ve noticed is that during the Wren cross deal there were a lot of [alumni] writing in,” said John Gay, a freshman. “A lot of alums live here, but you can’t really say that makes them more conservative. I don’t know if it’s really local, either.”
p. Freshman Max Faubion, a Williamsburg resident, said that he noticed an ideological gap between the city and the College. “[Some people] seemed pretty outraged about the Sex Workers’ Art Show, and they were condemning [College President] Gene Nichol about it,” he said.
p. Neither went so far as to say that an ideological difference was a major factor in town and gown relations. Both students cited lack of interaction as a possible factor.
p. “We have more interaction with the tourists [than town members],” Faubion added.
p. Voting records indicate a rather large gap. In the 2005 gubernatorial election, 98.9 percent of campaign donations from College professors went to Democrat Tim Kaine.
p. While Kaine carried the City of Williamsburg by a margin of 60.5 percent to 36.7 percent (over Republican Jerry Kilgore), Kaine won James City County by a margin of only 101 votes, or 0.5 percent, and Kilgore carried York County with 52.2 percent, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.
p. Government professor John McGlennon said that may not matter very much in the College’s relations with the town.
“As is always true of more established folks, there’s going to be skepticism about more controversial issues,” he said. “I don’t think [recent controversies have] changed the attitude toward the College fundamentally.”
p. “We’re [in] an area that has grown rapidly, and I think the College is attractive to newcomers. They want to be in a college community because it’s intellectually stimulating and there’s more going on than in a typical small town,” McGlennon added.
Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler agreed with his assessment. “I’ll be honest. I don’t know that [the ideological gap] has a lot of impact. I don’t hear discussions about ‘those liberal people’ or ‘those conservative people.’ I don’t sense that as much of an issue,” he said.
p. Both McGlennon and Sadler noted that the community and the College have become more interwoven since they arrived at the College. According to Sadler, as Williamsburg has grown and become more affluent, the traditional classifications of College, Colonial Williamsburg and everyone else, has broken down.
“We’re much closer now. I’ve seen the community rally around issues that have surprised us. For example, when Preston Hall burned a few years ago, thousands of dollars poured in to cover uninsured student losses,” Sadler said.
p. Sadler said that while divisions still exist, such as the disagreement over student housing, many are not as contentious as they were a few years ago.
p. “Twenty years ago, the College was more Republican than the surrounding area,” McGlennon said. “Our student body has changed. I’d say in many ways the College and the community have grown more similar.”
p. “We live in the community,” Sadler said. He noted that ideology “is not generally how you begin relationships [with members of your town].”
p. “Even if it were true — and I’m not sure that it’s true — that there was this huge ideological gulf, we still have over 4,000 employees,” Sadler said.
p. Whether this gulf exists or not, everyone is in agreement that closer cooperation between the College and the community was in the best interest of all parties.
p. “The more common ground we have, the better we can achieve things we all want,” Sadler said.