Students act on love for Nichol

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February 15, 2008

12:02 PM

In response to Gene Nichol’s resignation, students take action in support of their beloved president

p. During the 1960s and 1970s, students on college campuses across the country voiced their opinions concerning the Vietnam War in what was to become known as one of the most turbulent periods of protest at such institutions. Although not nearly as controversial or widespread as dissent over Vietnam, the College has experienced varying degrees of unrest in the days following the Board of Visitors’ decision not to renew President Gene Nichol’s contract and his subsequent resignation Tuesday morning.

p. The events began with a rally in the Sunken Garden Tuesday afternoon and a candlelit vigil in front of the president’s house that night and continued through various teach-ins and strikes organized by faculty members and students.

p. “[The student body’s reaction has been] extremely fiery,” Alex Spindel ’11 said. “It has been very motivated and extremely energetic. But I think the BOV has made up its mind, and nothing that happens now is going to change that.”

p. Despite some students’ views that the student activism will not affect the BOV, others remain persistent and continue with petitions and rallies. At a town hall meeting held in the University Center Commonwealth Auditorium Wednesday afternoon, students, staff and faculty members drafted a list of demands from the BOV requiring a more adequate explanation for not renewing Nichol’s contract.

p. “It is my hope that the movements will show the Board of Visitors that any decision they make will need to be account[ed] for, and they can’t assume we will take it without a deeper understanding of why they made that decision,” Mallory Johnson ’10 said. “I hope it will lead to a deeper connection with the administration and the student body as a whole.”

p. Johnson was one of the speakers at the candlelit vigil held outside of Nichol’s house at 10 p.m. Tuesday. After the speeches, one of which was given by Nichol himself, roughly 1,500 students in attendance sang the Alma Mater and cheered for Nichol.
“Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined Tuesday night to be such an amazing turnout,” Johnson said. “It was truly emotional and really showed the true Tribe spirit. At that moment, when I looked out at the people there and saw the emotion, I have never been more proud to be a member of this college.”

p. Various other supporters from the vigil stayed afterward to leave letters and presents on the president’s doorstep.

p. Also among Nichol’s supporters at the vigil was Trevor Albert ’08, who went to the event to support Nichol and observe other students’ reactions. He ended up spending the night in front of Nichol’s house.

p. “I camped out in front of his house, not to protest or demand change, but just to show my support for president Nichol and his family,” Albert said. “I didn’t do it for a particular organization, and I wasn’t asked by anyone to do it. It’s a trying time for him and his family and I just wanted to support them.”

p. A common cry among many of those who have attended the rallies and sit-ins is a unified support of Nichol amongst students and faculty. Although some strongly advocate change in the BOV’s policy, others don’t see it as being radically effective.

p. “I see the different protests as a way to grieve,” Ashley Shuler ’08 said. “Not really sure what it has done or will do, but I do know this campus can be strengthened.”

p. Shuler and two other members of the NAACP campus chapter, Jeanette Snider ’09 and Justin Reid ’09, are behind the “If Nichol isn’t welcome here … Neither am I” T-shirts. Shuler said they have sold almost 300 shirts for $6 each, a price that only covers the production costs.

p. “We wanted to get the message to President Nichol that we love him and are here for him and are behind him,” Shuler said. “We wanted to make it an all-inclusive environment with a united front. We were really hoping for a domino effect, where a diverse group of people come together and can reach out to other students.”
Reid has also been part of a collaboration to start a website, TribeUnited.com.

p. “I hope these recent events will bring renewed interest among all alumni in the affairs of the College,” Reid said. “Now is not the time to become disengaged. Seniors should not be withdrawing their gifts, nor should alumni be saying they’ll no longer donate to the College.”

p. Albert echoed this sentiment by stressing that pulling support from the College, in every form, would only prove detrimental to the community and would also go against what Nichol would have wanted for the College.

p. While the outpouring of support — evident in the number of people attending events, the emergence of various Facebook groups and events and blogs dedicated to discussing the issue — is an inspiration to people hoping for change, many on campus still question whether the student activism will really have an effect.

p. “It was the prerogative of the Board of Visitors to make the decision,” Austin Raynor ’11 said. “The board operates independently of students and is privy to more information and ultimately looks at what the College needs in the long run, not just at the moment. If the students had wanted to affect the decision, their energy would have been better used preventatively, rather than just as a response.”

p. Yet, whether it will entail great change or not, others at the College recognize the student activism as a signal to the outside world as to the true meaning of Tribe Pride and the close-knit community within, according to Johnson. She added that the movement during the last few days has been a positive way to catalyze change and get students’ voices heard.

p. “Instead of lashing out or anything negative, we need to stay strong,” Albert said. “We need to live up to what President Nichol said about making William and Mary the single most engaged university in the nation.”

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