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The Blue & Gray Press | August 19, 2019

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Letter to the Editor: Occupying the Board of Visitors

Dear Editor,

As Occupy Wall Street prepares to flood the streets of New York City, shut down metro stations and take back Wall Street, students and faculty at the University of Mary Washington will occupy the Board of Visitors meeting from Thursday through Saturday. We will raise the issues that they have so far failed to address, from student tuition and living wages for employees to environmental sustainability and corporate contracts. Beginning Thursday evening, we will hold daily occupations in the courtyard of the Jepson Alumni Executive Center.

The Board of Visitors consists of twelve members who control all decision-making at the University. The governor appoints them without input from students and faculty. Although designated student and faculty representatives may attend the meetings, they may not vote nor participate as equals in the discussion. The meetings are closed to the public. This external, nondemocratic governing body determines the tuition we pay and the quality of the education we receive. They are not accountable to members of our community and they exercise their power invisibly.

Even as they pour money into construction projects and re-branding campaigns, they fail to address skyrocketing tuition, faculty salary freezes, living wages for hourly workers, serious efforts towards sustainability and a dining services contract with a multi-national corporation known for labor rights abuses. We may not have votes, but we do have bodies and voices. This week we will physically demand positive change on all these issues. We will capture their attention. At all times, we are committed to nonviolence.

Occupy Mary Washington, like occupations around the country, organizes using consensus-based facilitation. That means that the group has no hierarchy and no leader. Decisions are made collectively and everyone may participate. This kind of direct democracy stands in stark contrast to the closed, hierarchical system that currently governs our school. I am writing to express my personal support for the efforts of the group, and to invite you to join us in our actions. Our schedule can be found on Facebook (‘Occupy the Board of Visitors’) and Tumblr (‘Occupy Mary Wash’).

Peter Hawes is a senior.


  1. Peter Hawes

    I have two corrections to make to this letter, with clarification.

    I wrote that “the meetings are closed to the public.” The board has invited us to sit in on some parts of their meetings, so in that sense the meetings are “open.” I don’t know whether this is a permanent invitation, or whether it extends to all students, faculty, and staff. Either way, the meetings take place in a less accessible location and are not advertised.

    I also wrote that student representatives may not “participate as equals in the discussion.” I have heard conflicting statements about this from representatives and from board members. My understanding is that students must be recognized before speaking. In any case, it’s hard to imagine how a student could participate as an equal in a discussion about an issue on which they cannot vote.