An Open Letter of Understanding

At the beginning of the spring semester, a few student organizations hosted themed parties in which the theme and resulting costumes marginalized members of the W&M community. The following is an open letter written in collaboration by two of our Student Leadership Development staff members, Trici Fredrick and Joe Wheeless.

January 29th, 2015

I am an “administrator.” I spend my days working with students. I share in their joys. I share in their triumphs. I also share in their disappointments; their missteps; their “why on earth would you do this” days. Each morning I wake to a new day just like many other people. However, no two days are alike. My work with students brings forth opportunities to educate, engage, and learn both with students and my colleagues at William and Mary. These past few days have been no different. You are likely aware that over the past weekend a few student organizations chose to host social events where the themes and/or related costumes were hurtful to members of our community. These are not the first groups to host such events and sadly, they will likely not be the last. However, events such as these provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on, learn from, and process the world around us. They present us with questions like: “Why do groups hosts events like this?” or “Why don’t they understand the implications and why this is hurtful to others?” I will admit, even as a seasoned “administrator,” I don’t have all the answers. I struggle to determine how to best support all students in their learning from and processing of recent events. But I have my ears open and am willing to learn.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have my biases too. I grew up in a privileged environment. I rarely wanted for much. I made mistakes. I learned from those mistakes (and some of those lessons were tough). And every day, I am still learning. None of us are without scars, without burden. We are all human. We all have a story to tell. And I have a deep desire to bring all of us to a conversation and a place that weaves together the beautiful, vibrant, and unique fabric of our William & Mary community.

College is a place for learning; for exploring and building… not just our resumes but also our minds, our hearts, our souls. It is a time of discovery of who we are, what we’re made of and where we might be going (at least for the next chapter of our lives). But it’s also a place for making mistakes; for taking responsibility for our mistakes; for allowing for forgiveness; for being able to stand up and say “This doesn’t feel right” and to hear “What can we do to make this better?” in response. When you find a member of the Tribe who needs to hear this statement or be asked this question, tell them so. Ask them for their story. Share yours. This is the only way we can wade through the waters of uncertainty and find the “right” answers and create a better community. We have to trust each other to ask the hard questions but more importantly we have to be forgiving and gentle enough to be able to work through the answers…together.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s hard work, but it’s the right work. And I commit to working on bettering our community and encouraging people to be better versions of themselves every day.

I need your help though. I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this with closed hearts and closed ears. I respect the voice of others where words come not from a place of revenge or doing harm to others, but from a genuine place to improve the lives of others.

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