Community voices more diversity is needed for successful future at William and Mary

aheymann@vagazette.com

Since taking office, College of William and Mary president Katherine Rowe has been seeking community input as to what the future of the university should be.

Rowe continued her efforts Thursday night at an open discussion that focused on how the Collcge should prepare students for after graduation.

More than 100 were in attendance.

Rowe spent most of the time listening as attendees gave their thoughts.

Participants sat in groups of 10 at tables. The groups discussed the goals and future of the college. Most were professors and faculty. Only two attendees were students.

An overwhelming number of attendees thought the role of William and Mary was not to prepare students for a specific job, but to show how what they learn in the classroom is applicable to careers.

Almost everyone thought the university needed to make the campus more diverse and inclusive. Several offered potential solutions.

Some felt the college must diversify its student and faculty population to create a truly diverse space, while others suggested understanding and accommodating the learning hurdles of different populations.

Diversity is an area the university is working on. Former president Taylor Reveley started the Lemon Project, which is named after Lemon, a man enslaved by the college.

The project seeks to acknowledge and educate the community on the role of racism and slavery in William and Mary’s history and is funded by the Office of the Provost.

At a Board of Visitors meeting in April, the college formally apologized for its role in Jim Crow and slavery in the south.

“The board profoundly regrets these activities, apologizes for them, expresses its deep appreciation for the contributions made by the African-American members of its community to the vitality of William and Mary then, now and for all time coming, and commits to continue our efforts to remedy the lingering effects of past injustices,” the resolution states.

The campus also has taken steps to reflect its diversifying population. Some of these include:

  • Putting up plaques at the Wren Building to honor the 50th anniversary of the first African-American female undergraduates and the 100th anniversary of co-education.
  • Renaming two buildings as Hardy and Lemon Hall, which was the first major acknowledgment of the contributions of African-Americans to the history and success of the College.
  • Naming the quad in front of Swem Library “Munford Plaza” after Mary-Cooke Munford.

In an interview with the Gazette on Aug. 21, Rowe said she was excited to come to an institution already thinking about how to create more diversity on campus.

In that interview, Rowe said she felt diversity was important because there was a lot of research about corporate America and the military that showed more diverse group settings lead to better, more diverse problem solving.

“So as we think about our lives as citizens in a very complex world, and as we think of our graduates' preparation for careers — that they will change careers multiple times — we know that 50 percent of the jobs they are graduating into won’t exist in 10 years, and 50 percent of the jobs will be ones we haven’t yet imagined,” Rowe said in the interview. “So how we craft that future together is going to be strengthened the more diverse the communities we work with. So this institution will be more successful, more competitive the more diverse it is and our ability to be agile adaptive and critical thinkers as an institution is strengthened the more diverse we are.”

In addition to cultural diversity, those at Thursday's discussion also felt more should be done to help those with financial need.

At a meeting of the Williamsburg Area League of Women Voters’ on Wednesday, Rowe discussed the university’s efforts to keep tuition affordable through the William and Mary Promise, which was implemented by Reveley. It states that every incoming undergraduate will pay the same rate of tuition they did their first year for all four years.

Rowe said she understands the college still needs to continue to find ways to become financially independent and support students with financial aid as state funding continues to significantly decrease.

At the end of Thursday’s discussion, Rowe said she was thrilled by the input she received.

“This was incredibly exciting. My biggest takeaway a few minutes ago was just how ambitious this group was,” Rowe said.

Rowe also stressed the discussion would not to determine the direction the college would take, but was the start of that thought process.

“This is the beginning of the conversation I hope you will take out of this room,” Rowe said.

More opportunities

Rowe will continue her listening phase at these events:

  • Twitter chat, 6 p.m. Oct. 15 on the future of work. Join the conversation using hashtag #wmForward.
  • On Oct. 17, the College’s Instagram story will accept comments on the future of work.
  • At 4 p.m. Oct. 23, there will be an in-person discussion on the future of service: communities, commonwealth, country and world in room 1221 of the Integrated Science Center.
  • On Nov. 7, the College’s Instagram story will accept comments on the future of service.
  • Twitter chat, 6 p.m. Nov. 12 on the future of service. Join the conversation using hashtag #wmForward.
  • At 4 p.m. Nov. 27, there will be an in-person discussion, “Thinking Forward: A conversation about the future of knowledge, work and service,” in Tidewater A and B of the Sadler Center.

All events are open to the community. Comments may also be submitted at wm.edu.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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