Minority groups advocate for improved access as campus faces restrictions on movement, physical space usage

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While students are preparing to return to campus in August subject to new restrictions on movement and limitations on physical space because of COVID-19, minority groups at the College of William and Mary have been familiar with these concerns before. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Students’ return to the College of William and Mary in the fall will be drastically affected by new limitations on movement and a scarcity of physical spaces brought on by COVID-19. Though frustration over physical spaces may be unfamiliar to some, for minority groups, the struggle for adequate space and resources on campus is nothing new.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and ongoing national conversations about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, the College recently announced a new working group to reevaluate names, statues and emblems across campus that commemorate individuals affiliated with slavery and racial discrimination. Despite these efforts, campus spaces dedicated to multicultural groups are limited, a challenge that some students say will not go away even when existing monuments and buildings are re-designated.

Most College’s academic departments that study marginalized groups, including global studies, Africana studies and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, are housed in Morton Hall, away from the heart of campus. In contrast, more ‘traditional’ majors, such as economics, English, government and biology, are housed closer to the historic core of campus adjacent to the Sunken Garden.

Former Global Studies Director and sociology professor Jennifer Mendez said this dynamic is representative of a larger problem.

“Like many institutions of higher learning William & Mary suffers from inequities tied to space,” Mendez said in an email. “Since it moved from the Reves Center in 2006, Global Studies had never had a dedicated space of its own for film screenings, lectures, meetings, etc.. This has made it exceedingly difficult for Global Studies to create, and foster a coherent, communal identity and contributes to our programs’ relative invisibility on campus.”

Though Global Studies was given a small seminar room for use by the Asian and Middle Eastern studies and Asian and Pacific Islander American studies programs, Mendez explained that it was not enough.

“For the last two years and approved for the coming year we have been able to offer a Brazilian Portuguese Language and Culture course in Latin American Studies,” Mendez said. “The faculty member who teaches this 4-credit course does not have office space. We have depended thus far on the generosity of other departments and programs to locate a place for her to meet with her students.”

Loni Wright ’21, who serves as the co-president of William and Mary’s Black Student Organization, said that campus spaces identify what the university prioritizes when showcasing itself to prospective students and outside visitors.

“When we think about the layout of the College, what we put at the center is obviously our priority because that’s where we bring our tours through,” Wright said. “These are the spaces that we are showing off to people.”

In addition to Morton, spaces like Campus Center, which houses the College’s Center for Student Diversity, are also not shown off to prospective and incoming students.

“The things that we hide away in there, things like the Haven or the Center for Student Diversity, are things that we don’t see,” Wright said. “So we put them in a corner. The fact that we don’t show them off, or that we don’t put them in a space to be seen, almost makes them feel forbidden.”

Wright, along with co-president Asia Prentiss ’21 and BSO’s executive board, welcome the College’s plan to move the Center for Student Diversity to the Sadler Center but said it was long overdue. Wright said that for many students, the CSD is simply a place for students to acquire free printing rather than truly engage with the communities present there.

Campus Center houses the Center for Student Diversity, which Wright said is sometimes used by students more frequently for printing than genuine engagement. ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT

Two hurdles to acquiring adequate space for campus entities like global studies and the CSD include navigating funding and construction priorities.

Generally, construction priorities are laid out in the campus master plan. The most recent master plan, adopted in 2015, lists Morton and Campus Center among buildings set to be removed and potentially replaced. The new arts complex, Zable Stadium additions and the Alumni House renovation were also included in the plan.

Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover said that the master plan is intended to restore and rejuvenate the College’s campus over the next several years.

“W&M is an old campus and many of our buildings have suffered tremendous deterioration over time,” Glover said in an email.

Chief Operating Officer of Finance and Administration Amy Sebring described the process of creating the master plan and determining construction priorities on campus.

“The development of the master plan is a comprehensive effort that considers a multitude of factors,” Sebring said in an email. “These include, but are not limited to, physical geography and layout of the campus; age and condition of existing buildings; forecasted changes in university functions; location of various university departments to improve productivity; efficient re-purposing of existing facilities versus new construction; green space; and the vision and goals of university leadership. Multiple stakeholders are involved in the development of the master plan through surveys, interviews and group discussions. Priorities are developed collaboratively and transparently.”

Regarding campus spaces housed within Morton Hall, Sebring explained that since it is considered as both an educational and general administrative building, it is maintained with both state and university funds. She also said that the departments housed in a building do not influence maintenance decisions.

“Facilities Management (FM) prioritizes needed repairs based on the condition of the building and its systems within available funding,” Sebring said. “FM does not base maintenance decisions on the academic or administrative departments within an E&G building.”

Glover said that an academic program’s subject matter should not influence its location on campus.

“Over the years, academic departments have moved around as space is made available and programs grow,” Glover said. “I acknowledge that W&M clearly still has vestiges and structures of racism and inequities. President Rowe’s call to action that we focus our efforts in dismantling those in all areas of campus is a charge we all must meet.”

Glover added that programs like global studies, Africana studies and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies are essential to the academic mission of the College, also said that students should be encouraged to enroll in courses within these programs.

If Morton is to be replaced, Sebring said a building committee will be convened to address needs in the context of the university as a whole. Like Glover, she emphasized how long-term academic goals influence building construction.

“That planning committee will address the current and future needs of the effected departments and develop a plan for the best use of the new academic building,” Sebring said. “In planning a new facility, the university prefers to construct space that is flexible and can be used for multiple purposes potentially by multiple departments. With this approach, as the needs of various departments ebb and flow, the space can accommodate that change. This is a critical component in planning a building designed to last 50 or more years.”

Mendez said that the global studies department is seeking a more permanent solution to its limited space on campus.

“Last spring we made a formal request to the Provost’s committee on space,” Mendez said. “And since Global Studies consists of 5 academic programs that serve diverse students and are dedicated to the study of regions around the world, we are hopeful that the administration will recognize our ongoing needs.”

The Office of the Provost acknowledged the request from global studies but indicated that the search for space was still ongoing.

“The request from GBST for space was received,” College Provost Peggy Agouris said in an email. “It was discussed in A&S and agreed that finding space for the program is important. The Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies is working with the Vice Provost for International Affairs and the GBST leadership on a grant proposal to address space and programming support, as well as reviewing options currently available on campus.”

Agouris pointed out the growing number of interdisciplinary programs on campus, many of which combine professors and resources from multiple departments. Generally, she said, the interdisciplinary nature of programs cause their faculty and students to be spread out across campus.

Another factor that has determined where departments live on campus is their age, as older departments are frequently located on older parts of campus.

“We are aware that there are a variety of spaces on campus, some more desirable than others,” Agouris said. “However, I can assure you that location is not an indication of the importance of a program. Most commonly, it is related to the age of a program, i.e. whether it is a longstanding department or a newer interdisciplinary program, and other factors.”

Agouris also framed Morton as being less remote and more central on campus, noting that many departments, including classical studies, sociology, and theater, speech and dance, are housed in Morton. She also listed the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, Earl Gregg Swem Library and William H. Small Hall as being important buildings that are physically near Morton.

“From my perspective, Morton (which is one of our buildings that are indeed in need of a renovation) is not in a remote location but rather in the hub of critical campus activity,” Agouris said.

While Morton holds many crucial departments, Wright emphasized that the perception of Morton does not match the importance of the activities inside of it.

Morton Hall, where many cultural departments are housed, is perceived poorly by some students. ETHAN BROWN / THE FLAT HAT

“Think about the way we describe Morton,” Wright said. “It’s always super inconvenient; there’s too many stairs; it’s awful. We always describe it as this awful place, yet this is where we house so many of our cultural departments, which says a lot. It’s considered one of the most undesirable spaces on campus.”

Wright also noted the correlation between physical distance and academic distance. With these departments being far away and out of sight, she said it may become easier for professors to assume they comprise a separate, distant part of campus.

“I actually took a class that was cross-listed with American studies and Africana studies, but he was not an Africana studies professor,” Wright said. “Considering he was teaching a class about Black people, the lengths he went to not mention their Blackness was alarming. This class was very far away from Morton. I think that that physical distance allowed him to drop the Africana side of things, even though it was a cross-listed course. Since we weren’t in that space, we didn’t have to think about it and he tried not to think about it throughout the course.”

In determining construction priorities, the financial situation of the College also plays a considerable role. Sebring emphasized that while construction plans take into account a range of factors, funding drives the project.

“Projects supported with state funds or those requiring debt authorization must be approved by the Governor and General Assembly,” Sebring said. “The timing of those approvals are subject to the state’s biennial budget process. Projects like the Alumni House and Kaplan renovation are not supported by the state but rather by private donors who have given money restricted only for the construction and renovation of those facilities.”

In a sense, private donors can help determine which projects come to fruition. Projects like a Morton renovation are less likely to be financed with private funds and thus require a longer process.

Vice President of University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ’99 maintained that alumni and donors give to a variety of initiatives but acknowledged that donors ultimately determine how their money is used.

“I will say that all gifts given to the university by donors are designated at their direction,” Lambert said in an email. “William and Mary does not decide where the gifts are used. We’ve seen the greatest support from our alumni and donors for scholarships, which has been from the start the number one priority of our campaign — hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in support of student scholarships in our For the Bold campaign.”

One concern with the premise that alumni can determine how their money is used is that it can further perpetuate inequality on campus. It is only in recent years that University Advancement has begun to focus on fundraising for diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus.

“Importantly, over the course of our campaign we’ve bolstered diversity and inclusion efforts at the university,” Lambert said. “Through the support of the D&I Fund, Center for Student Diversity Fund, Memorial to the Enslaved Fund, Dean Hardy Scholarship, WMSURE, the EY and Mellon Foundation gifts, the addition of new alumni engagement staff focusing on underrepresented communities, and more, W&M has made strides toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive community. One Tribe One Day this year was focused on these funds for diversity and inclusion and we raised more than ever before for these areas. The university can, and will, do more to strengthen our sense of belonging and will continue to focus its fundraising efforts in this area.”

Glover echoed the efforts of University Advancement to attract donations for diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“I will say that most donors are committed to support programs, scholarships, and other tangible things,” Glover said. “The Hulon Willis Alumni Association, Latinx Alumni, and the LGBT Alumni groups have been leading several efforts that support students and want to do more. We just received a $10 million-dollar gift to support our Veterans program, and the Center for Student Diversity, Lemon Project, and the Diversity and Inclusion fund all received tremendous financial support during OTOD.”

“University Advancement years ago established our own Diversity & Inclusion committee to advance a culture of belonging within advancement and across the university. Several years ago, we also took many steps to expand our alumni engagement staff, whose responsibilities are to support under-represented communities.”

Lambert also mentioned that the College has begun raising funds for the proposed Memorial to the Enslaved, for which a design was chosen in April 2019. According to the memorial’s website, planning formally began in 2014. During the 2020 One Tribe One Day initiative, $336,000 was raised for the Memorial to the Enslaved by more than 360 donors. The Board of Visitors recently announced that it would match donations to the memorial, dollar for dollar, until it reaches its $2 million goal.

Glover said that fundraising for the memorial has been successful. She expects construction to begin in the fall.

Still, when compared with other projects, overall donor support for the memorial remains low in dollar amounts. In contrast, the Alumni House renovation was mainly funded by a one-time $15 million donation by a single alumna. As of February 1, 2020, $41 million has been committed to the newly announced renovation of Kaplan Arena.

Lambert acknowledged the need for continued backing of more equitable giving practices.

“This has and it will continue to be a priority of ours — I have publicly declared that our team will continue to work to engage the totality of our alumni and donor community,” Lambert said. “In fact, University Advancement years ago established our own Diversity & Inclusion committee to advance a culture of belonging within advancement and across the university. Several years ago, we also took many steps to expand our alumni engagement staff, whose responsibilities are to support underrepresented communities.”

When asked how university-wide demands for racial justice will affect Facilities Management and building construction, Sebring offered no specific measures indicating how Facilities Management intends to address inequalities perpetuated by space. Nor did she mention how students might see tangible results.

“All work on campus supports the mission and goals of the university through implementations of the university’s strategic direction,” Sebring said.

Agouris was more specific in her response and listed several steps the Office of the Provost is taking to address systemic inequities.

“We have revised the curriculum for all undergraduate students,” Agouris said. “We instituted a new COLL 350 requirement, so all students will examine and analyze the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S. We have prioritized the hiring of a more diverse workforce. We are particularly aware of the importance of diversifying the university’s leadership and we have been successful in several recent hires at the level of Dean and above. A task force was created last summer and charged with developing strategies to hire a more diverse faculty. This important work continues, and will support efforts to recruit, hire and retain a more diverse faculty.”

Agouris also reiterated the measures implemented by University Advancement, citing initiatives designed to increase awareness as well as prioritization of funding for diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“In addition to scholarships and professorships, funds have been sought and secured for the acquisition of works of art by underrepresented artists for the Muscarelle Museum of Arts’ collection, the prioritization of funding for the Lemon Project, and the advancement of plans for the Memorial to the Enslaved, to mention only a few,” Agouris said.

“Right now, with all the movements we’re seeing, they have to again, so we’re seeing all these committees pop up where they’re including students of color, but I don’t think that’s the norm. We saw it again in 2015-16, right before I came here, where there was another movement due to Ferguson. Then there was prioritizing voices, task forces, and all of that. Once that dies down, they didn’t do anything for a period. … I don’t think it’s at the forefront of their minds in every conversation except when it’s at the forefront of national thought.”

Glover, who has overseen the College’s diversity efforts since 2012, pointed to several past task forces as helping to make diversity a priority for the administration. The 2016 President’s Task Force on Race and Race Relations was established to respond to racial unrest on college campuses. The task team developed a set of recommendations that were delivered to then President Taylor Reveley. Glover said that a Task Force Implementation team worked to implement 40 of the 51 recommendations by the end of 2018.

With calls for racial justice arising once again, Glover said that the administration plans to take new action.

“In response to elevated national discussions related to racial justice we have chosen to accelerate our on-going work and purposely not miss this opportunity,” Glover said. “We have added several new initiatives to include highlighting fair and impartial policing, developing a three-year pilot faculty hiring plan, heightening focus on our new values—beginning with belonging, working to make our curriculum more inclusive, raising the bar for senior leadership by equipping them through training and education to rid the university of institutional bias and dismantle systemic structures that impede equity and inclusion for all members of our community.”

Despite the administration’s recent actions, Prentiss believes the administration is reactive rather than proactive.

“They only do it when they have to,” Prentiss said. “Right now, with all the movements we’re seeing, they have to again, so we’re seeing all these committees pop up where they’re including students of color, but I don’t think that’s the norm. We saw it again in 2015-16, right before I came here, where there was another movement due to Ferguson. Then there was prioritizing voices, task forces, and all of that. Once that dies down, they didn’t do anything for a period. Then something else happens and they’re forced to do it. I don’t think it’s at the forefront of their minds in every conversation except when it’s at the forefront of national thought.”