The first article I ever wrote for The Blue & Gray Press my freshman year was about a then-new, one-time fee to pay for group fitness classes at the gym. I camped outside of the fitness center for an hour, asking unsuspecting gym-goers for their thoughts on the fee. I was so proud and so eager to impress my new community with my writing. I cried when my more talented editors tore it to shreds. (In fact, they just did their jobs correctly, and the edits weren’t even that bad. I was just arrogant and assumed that I didn’t have much of anything to learn in the way of journalism.)
I’ve come a long way since then. Eventually, my articles were less covered in red ink. I was a senior writer, then a news editor for two years, and then editor-in-chief. It’s been a blast, but there’s no way to be a part of The Blue & Gray Press staff for four years and not come away feeling a little cynical.
This year, we’ve reported extensively on how students feel unsafe on campus; how students feel unheard by administration in an extraordinary time of global anxiety and how students, particularly students of color, feel the UMW Police Department contributes to a culture of distrust and fear surrounding law enforcement. In past years, we’ve reported about the school’s stunningly inadequate mental health resources, considerable concerns regarding accessibility and how white supremacists routinely spread their message on campus with no consequence. On a less severe, but no less disheartening, note, we’ve devoted significant ink to talking about dining problems, lack of parking and issues surrounding (often time-sensitive) communication from the school.
In my personal life outside of the paper, I’ve had my fair share of frustrations with UMW. In the past year, I watched the school dismantle the Intercultural Living Learning Community in Framar House, something that was deeply important to me and generations of students living in the house for the past 14 years. (To be clear, the decision to start caring about accessibility and to ensure living learning communities are accessible is the right one, but it’s frustrating that, because the school has failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act for 30 years, a once-thriving community has come to an end.) And, when I had a panic attack bad enough to warrant knocking on the RA’s door for help, I was one of many students who had an armed police officer respond instead of appropriate mental health services.
To all of these concerns, UMW has said to its students over and over again, “we hear you. We see you. Here’s a town hall. Here’s a standing committee.” While it’s well and good to be heard and seen, it has not and does not always feel like the school is really committed to change. Sometimes, loving UMW feels like loving one of its many brick walls.
I say this not because I’m particularly interested in holding up a giant middle finger to the school as I’m on my way out, but because I do love UMW, a lot. I care about the school, and I want to see it be better for the next generations of students. There’s no way to be a part of The Blue & Gray Press staff for four years and not believe in a brighter future.
I’m encouraged every day by the student activists on campus. The NAACP’s Campus Police Assessment was one of the most impressive examples of student organizing I’ve seen in my time at UMW. Advocating for meaningful change on top of being a full time student, and often on top of being an employee and holding leadership roles on campus, is exhausting. My hope for student activists is that they’ll allow themselves time to rest – my hope for their (particularly white) peers is that they’ll shoulder some of the burden. My hope for administration is that they’ll ensure that none of that hard work goes to waste.
I don’t want to spend my last few days at UMW reflecting only on the bad, because, if given the choice, I would absolutely pick Mary Wash again. There’s no way to be a part of The Blue & Gray Press staff for four years and not see the good.
So, all that said, some thanks are in order.
To the wonderful professors in the Political Science and Communication and Digital Studies Departments: thank you for your kindness, your patience, your life advice and your commitment to seeing students succeed. Special thanks to Professors Gupta, Farnsworth, Lester and Whalen, who have all served as official and unofficial academic advisors, and have been instrumental in my development as a writer, researcher and student. Thanks as well to Professors Crosby, Goldman and Johnson-Young: I kind of want to be all of you when I grow up.
To Sushma, the faculty advisor for the paper: thank you for all your guidance and for believing in the paper as much as you do. We couldn’t do it without you.
To Gwen, Heather and the folks at the Writing Center: thank you all for being such sweet and supportive co-workers and for making work fun.
To the 2020-2021 editorial staff of The B&G: so much love to all of you. There’s no one else I’d rather spend six to eight hours of my Wednesday nights with. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of you for “doing the news,” in a pandemic no less. There were times this year at Zoom University I felt so disconnected from campus and from college in general – thank you for reminding me what it feels like to be a part of such an amazing community and of how much I love student journalism.
To all current and future writers and editors for The B&G: thank you. Keep writing. Your fitness class fee article could turn into one of the most meaningful parts of your college career. It worked for me.
To my friends and family: thanks for everything. I hope I made you proud.