At the Feb. 23 meeting of the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly, SA President Anthony Joseph ‘21 addressed the recent controversy within the student meme group “Swampy Memes for Twampy Teens” regarding SA’s Naming and Renaming Referendum. After a post in the group criticized Joseph’s use of the phrase “virtue signal” in a Feb. 22 email to the student body regarding the referendum, Joseph spoke directly about the intention and importance of the referendum’s wording.
“This was a referendum designed to gather the sentiment of the student body, that was its sole mission, and we believe that it did that,” Joseph said. “The reason why some of the questions were vague and ambiguous is because the process for naming and renaming itself is vague and ambiguous.”
Additionally, Joseph addressed concerns around some of the data collection methods and survey questions, including a question that asked students about the legacy of a former president of the College, Lyon Gardiner Tyler.
“What we tried to do is capture the best thing, subjectively, that he did, and the worst thing, subjectively, that he did,” Joseph said. “That was a decision that we made together.”
Joseph also addressed criticism of the final question of the survey, which asked students their opinions on a quote by a “prominent alumnus,” at the time unnamed, who was later revealed to be Thomas Jefferson. The quote included references to white supremacy and Black subjugation.
“The last quote is just to bring attention to the actions and the words, not the individual,” Joseph said. “It is important that we hold these people by our values now, and what it means to be a community in this day and time.”
Joseph went on to emphasize the struggle BIPOC students face on the College’s campus, navigating landscapes and spaces named after individuals who fought against BIPOC students’ rights.
“Essentially this gets to one question, one question that I think that we as Student Assembly grappled with and answered honestly: could you look a Black student in the eye — or a person of color — and give them an award named after their oppressor?” Joseph said. “I would argue no. I am not the monolith of Black opinion. I am going to put that out there right now. But due to the meetings that we have had with the BIPOC community on campus, it was made clear to us that this was something that really bothered them.”
At the end, Joseph remarked that criticism regarding the Referendum needed to be directed towards him rather than within the Facebook group.
“I am going to say this to Swampy: all of that nonsense needs to stop,” Joseph said. “If you have criticism and you have feedback to offer, that needs to be directed to Student Assembly — more specifically, me — because I’m the one who approved the damn thing in the first place. We are a community that is better than that, and if you have a problem, I would love to talk about that in a very respectful way with you and give you some insight into how this decision was made … at the end of the day, BIPOC students have had to adjust too much to managing the landscape that is around them. We feel William and Mary should deal with these matters swiftly for their sake.”
Later in the meeting, senators unanimously passed the Electoral Procedure Amendment Act. The act, which was introduced last week by Sen. Owen Williams ’23, clarifies inconsistencies between the SA Code and Constitution about election administration and grants the power of election oversight to the independent elections commission, rather than the Senate.
The act also grants the election commission the power to hold asynchronous virtual information sessions for any students considering campaigning for a Senate position.
Also at this week’s meeting:
- Sen. Helen Tariku ’21 introduced the Student Diversity and Inclusion Symposium Act, which would allocate $250 from SA Reserves to fund the attendance of intersectionality expert and author Dr. A’Tasha Christian at the annual Student Diversity and Inclusion Symposium.