Letter to the editor: A passion for consistent William & Mary style


I very much appreciated Ethan Brown’s Sept. 10 column regarding William & Mary’s efforts to ensure greater consistency in how we communicate about ourselves. As the person charged with leading this effort across the university, I understand the passion and attachment associated with how we speak and write about our institution.

I, too, am passionate about how we communicate William & Mary both internally and broadly to external audiences. The leadership team at William & Mary is focused on raising our national profile and making sure people, especially those across the country and around the world, recognize we are both a world-class college and a superb research university.

Ethan is absolutely correct that William & Mary has technically been a university since 1779 when legal education began and the Law School was established. As noted in a 2017 article in the W&M Alumni Magazine, references to William & Mary as a “university” date back to the 1700s, including the honorary degree bestowed on Thomas Jefferson in 1783.

What I need to challenge, however, is that the world today widely knows William & Mary as a university, and that making efforts toward style consistency are unnecessary.

Each morning, I review all news articles and broadcasts that mention William & Mary and regularly see a variety of names. We see “William and Mary,” “College of William and Mary,” “The College of William and Mary,” and even “William and Mary College.” Sometimes we see a variety of names in the same publication on the same day. However, thanks to our ongoing efforts, we are seeing William & Mary more and more consistently.

When it comes to abbreviations and alphabetical lists, things are particularly confusing: we are variously listed in the Cs for “College,” Ts for “The College,” or Ws for “William” in any given list. Variable listings are especially problematic when it comes to tracking research productivity and assigning institutional affiliations during the publishing process. In a digital age when exact search strings determine hit rates, variation in our name can make it more challenging to track the scholarly output of our community.

Internationally, our reputation suffers each time someone sees “College” and immediately assumes William & Mary is a prep school. This happens.

There is a deep fondness, particularly among undergraduate alumni, for “the College.” As noted on brand.wm.edu, “the College of William & Mary” is reserved for our most formal occasions and “the College” for second reference in communications for undergraduate alumni.

For all other communications, we use William & Mary on first reference, and “university” or “W&M” on second references. This mirrors the way other institutions refer to themselves in a clear, consistent manner. For example, does The Flat Hat refer to the university in Blacksburg as “Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,” or just “Virginia Tech?” Is it “The President and Directors of Georgetown College” or simply “Georgetown University?” How many times have you read “Leland Stanford Junior University” instead of “Stanford?”

The style guidelines are designed for communications of, for and about the university. It is up to each member of our community, in their own personal communications, to decide how they refer to William & Mary. Our hope is they see the importance and value in being consistent with how we talk about ourselves while also ensuring the outside world knows this is a leading university with exceptional undergraduate, graduate and professional programs.


Brian Whitson



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