The Board of Visitors is afraid.
Perhaps they’re terrified that, if they remove his name from campus, Thomas Jefferson’s putrid rotting corpse will rise from its grave at Monticello, make the two-hour trek back to his alma mater, and make them regret it?
Perhaps they’re petrified that, should they expunge the campus of his vile name, every racist bone in Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr.’s body — that is, his entire skeleton — will remove themselves from their resting place and make the Board rue the day they made the campus more welcoming to students of color?
But, alas, it isn’t the specter of an American president or their progeny that haunts our campus. It would be preferable if it were, as the specters that do haunt us were created by people of their sort and are more ghastly than any rotting corpse or ghoul. Racism, both systemic and active, are the forces that haunt our halls. The condescension, disrespect and outright hostility of BOV members toward the student body, Student Assembly members and our president are ghostly echoes of this racism. The relationship between the BOV and SA has become inimical, but only because the BOV has been relentless in its pursuit of pushing it there. SA President Anthony Joseph ‘21 has bent over backwards to be a gracious, respectful and kind representative of the student body. Time and time again, the BOV has rewarded his generosity with disrespect, racist undertones and condescension. Their inability to act on the pressing crisis of racial injustice in America speaks volumes to their moral values and short sightedness.
The most obvious physical manifestations of the BOV’s values and lack of vision are the very buildings and statues we walk by every single day. Like ghosts of the past, they remind many students that, were they born in a different era, their lives could, and likely would, have been forfeited to a person who is now sanctified on our campus. The buildings these students must walk into feel like the maw of a creature, brought to life by the names that are inscribed on their surface and the signs that stand outside their doors. These names constantly remind students that, no matter how much evil those in the past put into the world, no matter how many vile and disgusting the acts these men perpetrated, the College of William and Mary is willing to look past it.
Let’s dispense with metaphor and get down to the facts. Men who enslaved their fellow humans do not deserve recognition. Men that supported the institution of slavery for millions of their fellow humans do not deserve recognition. Men that raped, murdered and tortured their fellow humans do not deserve recognition.
I don’t know how to explain to the BOV that they should care about their fellow humans more than they should care about people that died hundreds of years ago. I don’t know how to tell them that they should listen to the cries for change. I don’t know how else to say that words are no longer good enough. We demand action.
It seems all too clear that what the BOV and Administration truly fear more than all else are the wealthy donors that, most assuredly, haunt their dreams. For too long the administration and BOV have prioritized the needs of wealthy donors while not only ignoring but spurring the needs and requests of its current students on issues of equity. SA has done its utmost to push an agenda focused on increasing the standards of equality to that of a modern society. This has been met with open hostility. On top of that, the BOV has championed and defended racist alumni from our history.
The BOV and President Katherine Rowe have disgraced our college by defending the icons of racism and hatred this school has carried with it since its inception. They believe that half-measures and bluster will be enough to placate the student body. I am here to inform them they are incorrect. For when one considers the history of the College, one’s first reaction is to shudder, not to gleam.
Will Wasson is a 3L at the Law School. He graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2018 with a BA in history and political science with a minor in gender studies. He is currently an appointed member of the Student Bar Association, a member of the Student Assembly Ad-Hoc Committee on Reparations, and the symposium editor for the Bill of Rights Journal. Email Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.