The College of William and Mary’s President Katherine A. Rowe discussed student civic engagement and was named the first honorary member of the Williamsburg Area League of Women Voters at its fall membership meeting Wednesday night.
W&M is celebrating 100 years of women at the college.
Rowe said while changes were happening at the college, the state rejected the ratification of the suffrage amendment in 1920 and did not symbolically ratify suffrage until 1952.
“In alignment with these centennials, we find the opportunity to reflect on that generation who brought the franchise for women, particularly the women of that generation,” Rowe said.
“I want to say that in our current generation of students now, I see a generation that is prime to make a similarly great impact on the world.”
Rowe said she felt the current generation of undergraduate students are more engaged with their communities than past generations.
“The world is here all the time and (students) are in it,” Rowe said. “There is no more bubble of college anymore … for better or for worse.”
She added that while students are more aware of the challenges they have inherited, they are still optimistic about searching for solutions. Rowe said she is especially inspired by undergraduates’ sense of responsibility to build better communities.
“This generation of undergraduates are going to be the critical partners in sustaining our democracy,” Rowe said. “So we need to be listening and learning from them as they too need to be listening and learning from us.”
A member of the audience asked Rowe how the League of Women Voters could attract a younger and more diverse membership.
“As a teacher, I would partner with students in the class because they knew things about what their learning process was like that I didn’t know, and if I engaged them as partners I would always come to better solutions,” Rowe said. “So my answer to you is ask and you will get fantastically exciting ideas.”
Another member of the audience asked Rowe about the College’s Neighborhood Relations Committee. She said most people in the surrounding neighborhoods used the committee to complain about issues with students. The woman asked Rowe if the committee could be used to create more positive interactions between the community and students, rather than just being used as a sounding board for complaints.
Rowe said she enjoyed the idea another person had brought up that evening, which was inviting college students over for dinner to get to know them.
“You have chosen to live right next to a college campus. It has its challenges, it has extraordinary benefits, so I would think about how we can embrace the vitality of that 18- to 22-year-old moment,” Rowe said. “And it starts with a nice dinner at midterms.”
Mary Schilling, president of the Williamsburg Area League of Women Voters, closed the evening by naming Rowe the first honorary member of the Williamsburg League.
Rowe reflected on her first memory of voting from when she was 6 or 7 years old. Rowe’s said she was allowed to follow her mother into a voting booth by their local League of Women Voters. There, Rowe said she looked up curiously as her mother cast a ballot.
“It was thrilling to be able to watch an adult vote,” Rowe said.
Later in life, Rowe said she volunteered for the Judge of Elections in Philadelphia.
“It was inspiring to be part of a democratic process,” Rowe said. “I owe a lot to the League of Women Voters, and to everyone who has helped to foster a commitment to (civic) participation.”
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.