Connie Swiner, W&M Class of 1981
Connie Swiner III arrived at William & Mary in 1977. During his time at William & Mary he served as the President of Alpha Phi Alpha, and was a member of the Biology Club, Ebony Expressions, the Black Students Organization, and the Affirmative Action Committee.
Swiner graduated early in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and went on to get his doctoral degree in Medicine at Howard University. He pursued a career in medicine, as is currently working as an anesthesiologist in Chicago. He also served on the Board of Directors at William & Mary’s Swem Library from 2010 to 2013.
In his interview, Swiner speaks about the moments of solitude walking through the campus and Colonial Williamsburg that broke up a rigorous academic experience as a biology major. Memories of his time as a TA for Comparative Anatomy, of being a member of Ebony Expressions, and of receiving the parental support of staff persons in housekeeping and the cafeteria stand out in particular. Connie has remained involved with William & Mary, stating that: “I still love the school. So I give back. I go back to visit all the time. Because had it had a negative impact, they wouldn’t see a red from me. But obviously that’s not the case.”
William & Mary
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interviewee: Connie Swiner
Interview Date: June 29, 2017 Interview Duration: 01:16:27
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt and I’m the oral historian at William & Mary. It is currently around 7:00 on June 29, 2017. I’m sitting with Connie Swiner at his home in Chicago. We’re going to start with the date and the place of your birth.
Connie: September 8, 1959, Washington, D.C.
Carmen: And what years did you attend William & Mary?
Connie: 1977—I’m the class of ’81, but I finished in December of ’80.
Carmen: Oh, great. So before we dive into your time at William & Mary, you said you were born in Washington, D.C. Is that where you were raised?
Carmen: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about how you were raised and what your family dynamic was?
Connie: My father was a police detective, my mother was a registered nurse, and we lived in the southeastern part of Washington, D.C., and there were four of us total. I’m the oldest. I have a sister who’s under me and two other brothers as well.
00:01:02 Very close-knit, loving family. Went to church every week. Sunday dinner was kind of mandatory. There wasn’t an option not to be there. They stressed education and discipline and politeness—yes, sir; yes, ma’am; no, sir; no, ma’am; please, thank you, that sort of thing. We had a lot of connections with my mother’s parents because they were still alive, but my father’s parents were deceased before I was even born, so I never knew them. But the ones that we had were great. They lived in Maryland.
Carmen: Were your mother’s parents in D.C. as well?
Connie: No, they lived in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, beyond Chesapeake Bay.
Carmen: That’s a nice little vacation to go out there growing up, I’m sure.
Connie: Oh, yeah. I would love to go there, right.
Carmen: So when did you first start thinking about college?
Connie: It seems that that was always in the plan for all of us. My father, like I said, he pushed education. And he was only able to do two years at Clark College in Atlanta because he had to drop out so his sister could go, because his father was deceased at the time, and, you know, money was obviously short, so he dropped out. But he was determined that we were going to get the full ride all the way through college. So it probably was instilled upon me even as early as elementary school.
Carmen: And when did you decide that it was going to be William & Mary?
Connie: Well, I went to a six year college prep school from seven through 12, and that school had sent a number of graduates to the College of William & Mary, and so one of the college counselors was kind of suggesting places that he thought would be a good fit for me, or that I might be interested in, and certainly William & Mary was one of the ones that was on the list.
00:03:02 I didn’t know the significance of William & Mary. In fact I wasn’t sure I really had heard of it, like a lot of people I know hadn’t heard of it that were in my, you know, running group. But after I researched it, I thought it was interesting. But I will say I visited UVA first, and of course I liked the scenery at UVA. But when I thought about how large the place was, how large the campus, how large the classes would be, and after seeing the pictures of William & Mary and knew it was a smaller institution, I kind of leaned towards William & Mary sight unseen, actually.
Connie: I accepted it before we went to visit it. So happily I did fall in love when I went there, so—
Carmen: Thank goodness for that.
Connie: —I got accepted, so yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, so what did you choose to study then? Or did you already know what you wanted to study before going in?
Connie: I knew that I wanted to be premed and so…and I knew I had an interest in biology, so I figured that that’s what my major would be.
Carmen: Why were you interested in that? What made you think yeah, I’ve got to be premed, got to do biology?
Connie: Well, you know, I’m not really sure whether I wanted to become a doctor. I mean, my mother was a nurse. I was exposed to the hospitals. I would go stop past her job when I would leave school to catch a ride home with her, so I’m studying right there in the clinics with her and so the doctors are interacting with me, and of course the nurses as well. So, you know, I kind of got even more interested in the concept of taking care of people.
But they never pushed it. But they also didn’t push going to law enforcement either, so none of us went into law enforcement. But if I had an interest they would buy me things. Like I would ask for a microscope for Christmas and I would get that, or, you know, I liked to tinker around with animals and that kind of thing. So I think that’s where the interest in biology stemmed from, just a natural interest.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. So you accepted William & Mary sight unseen, so what—and you said a little bit about it—but what was your very first memory? Whether it was the smell or the look of the place, what was that very first memory?
Connie: William & Mary was…I was familiar with Williamsburg, having done an elementary school trip a long time ago. Unfortunately, I think there was something that stopped us from getting to do all of it because I think there was some delay. And so we got to go to Jamestown, but kind of just drove through Williamsburg. We didn’t get a chance to get out and what have you. So it’s really…but I didn’t really understand that that’s where William & Mary was.
When I went to visit William & Mary, it’s what I wanted. I wanted what I envisioned as the typical college experience. I didn’t want to be at a city college or a city campus.
00:05:56 The greenery of it was what really got me, just the fact that it had that antiquity going on, but mixed with the modern parts of the campus as well, the trees. Crim Dell. Love that, you know, and Lake Matoaka, that kind of thing. And the fact that you’re right there adjacent, and actually, as you know, part of the school is technically part of Colonial Williamsburg, so all of that I thought was just very fascinating.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. So you started William & Mary, you had your freshman experience, but you immediately were starting to go to these classes. Did you feel prepared for the courses you were introduced to?
Connie: Very much so. The place that I came from, St. Anselm’s Abbey, was very rigorous, so in some ways parts of it were easier than St. Anselm.
Carmen: Really? Actually, I guess that’s a relief. I don’t hear that from many college students.
Connie: No, I mean, I’m not saying it was easy, but I’m saying I had been through the rigors, and so I was used to time management and evening studying. Plus I had a goal. And I think that I had to work even harder because I don’t think people really thought that I was going to be successful.
Carmen: Did anyone express that to you or that was just a sense?
Connie: Well, it’s kind of like once I was going to major in biology, like oh yeah, right, good luck with that, you know, because, you know, there’s no easy major, I think, at the college, but certainly some are notoriously more rigorous than others. And I think that the fact that, from what I gathered, there hadn’t been a whole lot of African American students that actually majored in any of the natural sciences. Some started, just like other people started, and then after Intro, whatever, you don’t see them again for other classes anymore.
Carmen: They decided no thank you.
Connie: So that’s kind of like what I heard. You know, I mean, you could just tell from the students, like I want to major and I want to go to med school. Okay, we’ll see. And, you know, that’s kind of the… And I got that from students and also a few faculty people, just kind of give you the side eye, like okay. Okay, good luck with that.
Carmen: Did that motivate you even more to just—
Connie: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Carmen: Were there any specific notable professors that influenced you or impacted your time at William & Mary?
Connie: Yes. One in particular—and I just found out recently she had passed away a little while ago—was Dr. [Georgevich]. She was a professor in the Chemistry Department, and I took inorganic chemistry from her. And she kept asking me about—because of course I was the only black student in the class, so I stood out, naturally. And of course I made a point to sit in the front of the class because I’m trying to get all the information I can. And there was a gentleman by the name of William Jackson who had majored at William & Mary. I’m not sure if he majored in chemistry. It just so happened that Bill was in my fraternity.
00:08:57 And said, do you know Bill Jackson? He was a great student, this, that, and the other. And so she kind of looked after me in some ways. She was giving me encouragement, you know, because Bill wanted to become a physician as well. And so she was very impactful in that regard.
And I know I had a situation where one of the tests—I used to suffer with asthma and I was having an asthma problem that day. So I took the asthma medication, which can make your heart beat and make you jittery. And traditionally I would have coffee for breakfast, and I had a Coke on top of that, and I’m trying to sit and take an examination, and I couldn’t even hold still to go to the bathroom, and so I didn’t do as well on the test as I had done for the first test.
And she pulled me into the office and asked me what happened, and I told her what happened. She said, okay, I’ll tell you what. If you do better on the final, I’ll find a way to kind of lessen the amount of impact the other test had on my overall grade. And I did, and I got a much better score on that, so I really was very grateful for that.
00:10:00 And also there was Dr. Mitchell Byrd, who was in the Biology Department, who was actually my advisor in the Biology Department. And what I liked about Dr. Byrd is that he gave me the opportunity to become a teaching assistant in Comparative Anatomy class. I went to him and asked him about that, and he said, well, let’s see how you do in the class. And happily I got an A out of the class. He let me become a TA. So that was kind of great. And he was an easy guy to talk to, so he was good. And there were some others that were great as well, but those two in particular stood out.
Carmen: Great. So we were discussing notable professors you had and you named two, but I know there were also other advisors and deans of the college that you might have come in contact with and that might have been impactful. Were there any other individuals that served as mentors to you?
Connie: Mentors, not directly, but there were some others who were impactful.
Connie: One was certainly Sam Sadler. I mean, Sam was just…I mean, he was dean of students at the time, whatever. Just to have somebody as down to earth as this guy, approachable, and took an interest in, I think, all the students. And people loved Sam Sadler. But he was, I think, very…he was just there for me. I felt for us, as African American students.
And I was a member of Ebony Expressions, which was a singing group. And I was president of that. And also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, so president of that. And so I had to have some interactions with Dean Sadler at the time, just to kind of like, you know, just to tell him how things were going, things that we might have needed that maybe he could have helped us with or what have you. So he was very impactful.
00:11:52 When I first got there, there was a gentleman who was known as, he was the rector of multicultural opportunities—minority student affairs. His name was Leroy Moore. He’s the one that kind of got me to come there because of this little King scholarship they gave me, which was not a lot of money, but it kind of like helped tip the decision to have me come to William & Mary because it gave that little bit of money on top of that little reaching out.
And then after that Dr. Carroll Hardy came to follow him, and she was everybody’s like advisor, mom, disciplinarian, whatever. And with me being, you know, in leadership, you know, it was that motivation that I talked about, I definitely wanted to interface with her about what was going on and what have you. So definitely those three people. I’m sure there are others, and I’ll think about that and I’ll bring them up later on.
Carmen: Sure. Great. Yeah, we hear frequently about Sam Sadler and Dean Hardy. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Sam Sadler and I regret that I was never able to meet Carroll Hardy.
Connie: Oh, really? Yeah, she was great. She didn’t play, but she was great.
Carmen: That’s what I’ve heard. You all said that. Earl Granger said that exact thing: she did not play.
Connie: Well, she didn’t have any problem with me because I was not a troublesome student, and I was working hard, so we got along quite well.
Carmen: I’ll bet. That’s great. Just to have that individual who was available to go to as resources.
Carmen: So this is a broad one. What are your favorite memories of your time at William & Mary, if you can narrow it down to a couple?
Connie: Walking the campus. It may seem strange, but I just loved walking the campus and walking down to CW—Colonial Williamsburg…because I would escape from just always, you know, because being a science major I was always in somebody’s lab or sneaking a dissected cat back to the dorm room or something.
Carmen: We’re going to return to that in a minute. [Laughs.]
Connie: I know you will. And I sneaked a pig to the dorm room, a piglet or whatever it was. That was a fond memory. And actually, singing with the choir was a fond memory. And the fraternity was a fond memory. And being a TA was actually a fond memory because it was something I felt was a big contribution to the school at the time that I did that. So I narrowed it down.
Carmen: Thank you.
Carmen: Well, you know, I’m bringing back up the dissected animals you were sneaking to your dorm. I’m just wondering why you wanted them in your dorm.
Connie: I did because sometimes you just wanted to not stay in the lab the whole time, and in case you had some last minute review, I just snuck it back to the dormitory room and did my stuff, much to the chagrin of my roommates, but…
00:15:06 Because they weren’t science majors. But, you know, it was like, is that what I think? I’m like that’s what it is, deal with it. I had to pass those exams. And I think one of the reasons, too, is that the cat—because I was comparative anatomy, it just so happened that right next door there was actually a human anatomy course, too, and a lab, and there was actually a cadaver that was right there, and I used to have a big fear of dead bodies, actually.
But I’ve got to get over there, because sometimes people end up alone doing this dissection or looking over what had been dissected. And I would look over there and I could see a wrapped up cadaver, and I went over there a couple times kind of trying to face my fears. I finally got over that. But during the night, [with somebody] in there, it was a little creepy. I think I watched too many horror films, so…
Carmen: I think any time of day for me that would be…
Connie: Yeah, I know.
Carmen: But the cadaver did not make it back to your dorm room?
Connie: The cadaver did not.
Carmen: It’s actually a way better or more innocent story than I imagined would come out of sneaking dissected cats just to study more in a different location.
Connie: Oh, I wasn’t trying to scare people or anything. No, I wasn’t that bad.
Carmen: Okay. Well, thank you for clarifying. This is a weird question to ask after that, but I want to transition and ask the opposite question, if there are any difficult memories that stick out to you from your time at William & Mary.
Connie: Well, there’s at least one that I can think of. There are probably some others. And it was just talked about on Facebook not too long ago. There was an episode where…and I forget his name, a sociology professor had done some sort of a story in the Flat Hat, and he was talking about how basically…
00:17:00 The way he put it was like…and I, of course, can’t repeat what he said. The minority of African Americans are taking the place of the qualified white students. And that’s what was said. And it was very hurtful because a lot of times—you had those three tiers. You had minority students, you had children of alumni and you had athletes that were viewed as being special categories and got special consideration.
I felt that that was a very distasteful thing to say. And quite frankly, it didn’t apply to me because I had credentials enough to get in. Because they had discussion one time—and I lived in Hunt Hall as a freshman. And I don’t know why it came up, but I was in a line of people talking about SAT scores. I happened to walk in. Well, “Connie, what’s your SAT score?” I told them they could shut up because I had the third highest in the hall. So they just, you know, so…
00:17:59 But it was very bad. And what was very interesting is that the first responses from the article were from his colleagues. Two or three colleagues in the next Flat Hat basically lambasted him for saying something like that. They felt it was inappropriate and it was wrong and that it was inaccurate on top of it. And I think Dr. [McCord] was one of them. It was just [unintelligible] 00:18:25. I forgot that guy. I won’t say his name, it might be wrong. But that was rather hurtful, I thought.
I didn’t have a lot of overt racist things happen to me while I was there. Now one thing that did happen a lot, and I think of course I don’t know if it happened to anybody else, but my fellow African American males would talk about it. We were frequently stopped by campus police and asked to show ID. I mean, whenever you’d seen them it’s like, “Okay, get my ID ready, they’re going to ask me for it.”
00:19:00 They weren’t disrespectful. It was always like, “How are you doing? Are you a student with us?” And I’m like, “Yes I am.” “Can I see some ID? Okay, have a good evening.” So we were always asked that whenever. But, you know, I got used to the fact it’s just going to be, and that’s how it was. Was I ever called a bad word here? No, I don’t think I was ever called the “N” word. I don’t remember that happening.
And I had a couple episodes where obviously people, like when I was a TA, there was an episode where there were a couple of students who didn’t want my help in the lab. And the other two young ladies who were, you know, white, were TAs with me, great gals, told them you have to ask Connie because he dissected that part of the animal and he’ll be putting the tags on the practical so if you want to know what that is, you go talk to him.
00:20:04 So they begrudgingly had to ask me, and I’d say I’ll be happy to help you out. It killed them to ask me to help them out. But for the most part I didn’t have a lot of bad experiences that I knew about, anyway, it didn’t seem. People knew who I was, because I was the only person in the department, and I just didn’t have it.
Carmen: I don’t want to dwell on too much of what you said because I don’t want to turn the mood of any of this, but I’m wondering, so the article in the Flat Hat, the first responses back combatting that were from instructors or professors, which—
Carmen: —you know, that’s great. Do you recall there being any student backlash, though?
Connie: Oh, yeah. Well, the Black Student Organization definitely wrote a response. I think the disappointing part was that our response, for whatever reason, didn’t show up until the following Flat Hat.
00:20:57 And then what was even more disappointing, there was a small group of African American people that were involved in it who were also black students who wrote a response and said they didn’t agree with the Black Student Organization’s position. We were just like… “What the hell?” you know, so that was an unfortunate, messy thing.
But at least two or three professors responded and laid into this guy. And I don’t know what his problem was. He was a real piece of work. I never took a course from him, and certainly after that I wouldn’t have if I wanted to because I don’t think I’d have gotten a fair shake in his class [unintelligible] 00:21:42.
Carmen: Right. Wow. So, I mean, it’s good that you say you didn’t have that many bad experiences there, and it’s a good thing, I guess, when you can look back on something and it’s been a generally good experience. But do you feel like the type of aggressions, micro aggressions and downright just aggressions of being asked to see your ID, those sort of things that became just kind of common occurrence, did that shape your experience in any large way?
Connie: No, I don’t think so because I think that I just realized it’s just something to deal with. I had a bigger picture. I had a bigger focus. And I could get along with people quite well because I’m just comfortable. An all boys school, small, and it was easily 90% white, so I could deal with people. I’m not hard to get along with. I just came here to do my job and learn and not waste my parents’ money. So it didn’t really shape me. I still love the school. So I give back. I go back to visit all the time. Because had it had a negative impact, they wouldn’t see a red cent from me. But obviously that’s not the case.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s a very clear way to look at it. That makes complete sense. Jesse Jackson visited campus, right, in, I think it was, 1980. Do you recall that at all?
Carmen: Okay. Because I was reading up on something, and he was visiting or participating in a National Black Caucus in Richmond, I believe, and he gave a lecture on campus. And unfortunately, the lecture received mixed reactions, and I don’t think it got as great a turnout as they hoped or thought it would.
Connie: Do you know what time of year it was? If it was ’80 I imagine I would have still been there.
Connie: I don’t recall that. Maybe he did, but I’m not remembering that.
Carmen: Okay. I just thought I’d ask.
Connie: One thing I did neglect to mention, and I know you want me to condense and it’s being recorded, one thing that helped me with some of the positive experiences on campus, oddly enough, was the reaction from a lot of the staff, like housekeeping, cafeteria workers, a lot of whom were African American, who were just there.
00:24:07 They were so proud we were there. And, you know, they would kind of look out for you, and in the cafeteria might give you some extra helpings or something like that, you know. And some were a little bit—especially this one lady. I don’t remember her name, but she wouldn’t look, she’d look down. Like wait, now, you could be my mother, you know, so I made sure I spoke to her all the time or whatnot. But you could tell a lot of them had a lot of pride that we were actually there and tried to look out for us the best way they could. That was great… They took us to their churches, told us where to get haircuts and things of that nature. Offered to fix us food if we wanted, so…
Carmen: What a great support system.
Connie: Yeah, it was. Because we didn’t have one, so all we had was each other. And so we had these surrogate parents, uncles or aunties to watch you. That helped a lot.
Carmen: Do you remember any of their names specifically?
Connie: Let me see. There were a couple guys that drove the Green Machine, when you had a Green Machine. Let’s see, one guy by the name of Duck. One guy…oh, what was the guy’s name? He was mean, but after he got to know you he was a nice guy. I think that guy’s deceased. What’s his name? Oh, the lady who was in the…what was her name? [unintelligible] in administration. This one lady was in the school post office. She was real nice. She would kill me if she knew I forgot. Estherine Moyler that was her name, Estherine. And I forget the…I don’t know the cafeteria worker’s name.
Carmen: Well, just for the purposes of this project I’m looking to interview alums, but also people who worked for the school in any capacity.
Carmen: Because I want to get a really broad spectrum of black experience at William & Mary.
Connie: Alex was the guy, the driver.
Carmen: Drove the bus?
Connie: He went by the name of Alex.
Carmen: So Alex and Duck?
Connie: …Duck were two Green Machine drivers. There was another one. I forget his name. They were just really good guys, and if they saw you running they’d brake the bus for you…
Connie: “Doing all right?” That kind of thing, so…
Carmen: Oh, that’s great. Well, maybe I’ll be able to track some of these individuals down. And if you ever think of any names, send them my way, please.
Carmen: You’ve answered this for the most part, but since we’re on the topic, I don’t know—I’m sure you’ve probably seen this. But there was the editorial on the black presence at William & Mary, and your mom was, I guess, interviewed for the article and she had a lot to say about your time at William & Mary. Have you ever seen that?
Connie: I don’t know.
Carmen: It was published in—oh, I have the other half right here.
Connie: I may have. But she was interviewed also at Howard, so I don’t… Oh, that’s—okay, that went down to William & Mary? Okay, all right.
Connie: Is that what she did it for? Okay.
Carmen: I like that picture, too.
Connie: Wow, yeah. And I had more hair then.
Carmen: Yeah, that was a nice—
Connie: They spelled my name wrong, but that’s okay.
Carmen: Yeah. But yeah, I wasn’t sure if they interviewed both of you, but they quoted pretty heavily from the things she said in the interview, and she’s clearly very proud of you.
Connie: Oh, yeah, no question. This is cool. I just…when did they publish this?
Carmen: This was 1985.
Connie: Okay. When I was finishing medical school.
Carmen: Yeah, and that whole article is about you being in medical school and…
Connie: Right. Right, right, right. It’s amazing. I remember seeing that picture. And I just remember when the article was being published, something I thought was being published, yeah. I don’t remember it was published at William & Mary. Okay, great.
Carmen: Yeah. And that’s available on the digital archive if you ever want to go see the full expanse of it. But she had several comments in there that I thought would make for good questions. It was her reflecting on your time at William & Mary. And I just thought you could maybe speak to it.
00:28:01 So one of the things she noted was that actually during your time there being a minority provided an opportunity to really stand out as opposed to, you know…I’m not exactly sure how they asked it, but she said actually being a minority was an advantage to black students because they stood out and were well known, and because there were so many white students, the black students had an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Do you feel like that was pretty accurate, or…?
Connie: I think so. I think that some people were curious because I think some people really hadn’t had many experiences with black people at all. And some people said as much, so they had some questions about this, that and the other. People would ask questions. “You know, y’all are alright!” I’m like, “yeah, we are!” You know, I mean…
00:28:56 But if you have had no experiences other than what you have seen through, you know, other means that might not be as complimentary, then you may be quick to think that okay, well, you’re going to be just like that. Then they realize that’s not the case. Or the fact that you might have gotten in because they had a quota to fill, and then you realize, well, this person’s doing better. “You got the information on this test?” You know, they’re asking me these kind of questions.
So I think it did. I mean, you had no choice but to stand out. And I think what it made me do is it made me start to come out of my shell, because I was traditionally actually a more reserved, shy individual. But, you know, you had to get there and perform and you had to get involved in stuff. People kept trying to push you—now you should be the president, be the head of this, get involved in this, that, and the other. So I finally said okay, I’ll do these things. That’s how I ended up becoming president of two organizations, and being OA and being a TA and all that kind of stuff.
Carmen: Had a lot on your plate.
Connie: Yeah, it was. On top of trying to be a science major.
Carmen: That’s right. Which, there’s one other thing in there I wanted to bring up, and then I want to get into all the things you were involved in, because the list is a bit extensive. She kind of closed out the article by saying that if you ever fond out “blacks were letting up there”, referring to William & Mary, “it would be disappointing because you and your friends made their mark at William & Mary.” What do you think she meant by letting up? What do you think she was referring to there?
Connie: Quote it again for me.
Carmen: She said if you ever found out that, “the blacks were letting up there it would be disappointing because—“
Connie: She’s referring to me, if I felt that way?
Connie: I think I would feel that way because it’s such a great school, and it’s such a great opportunity, and it’s also a great opportunity to have an impact on the school as well.
00:30:58 And I think that everybody there contributes to the ambiance and the experience of what we call William & Mary. And certainly I think the black experience is just as enriching as any other minority experience, or majority experience, for that matter, whether it’s the frats, whether it’s the drama, whether it’s the symphony, whether it’s the other service clubs or whatnot.
So I know that we were pledging and things of that nature, and Ebony Expressions, we’re singing music that you weren’t going to hear in the William & Mary choir, because it was a lot more gospel and spiritual type stuff. And so I’m sorry, I think the organization is defunct now, which is very disappointing. But I know the black and minority students there have become more immersed in many aspects of the William & Mary experience, including being SA president and all that kind of stuff as well.
So yeah, it would be disappointing if they didn’t take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that it has, and also to improve our image as well, since we’ve only been there now 50 years.
Carmen: It’s wild to think about. It’s great to celebrate, but it is thinking that it’s just been 50 years as…
Connie: Well, think about when I got there. It had only been what, ten years.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah. Transitioning from that a little bit, as I told you we would, I have a list here of the organizations and clubs you were in as a student. President of Alpha Phi Alpha, member of Biology Club, understandably, member of the BSO, Ebony Expressions, the Affirmative Action Committee, and you were also, of course, TA. What motivated you to be so engaged? You mentioned that individuals would say that you did need to get involved in those sort of things, but why did you choose the things you chose and what led you to them?
Connie: I wanted a full college experience. If I didn’t want to do those types of things, including living on campus, I would have gone to a city college in D.C. and then just live at home. And I didn’t want to do that. And I had to have balance. I just couldn’t be a science study grunt all the time.
Because Williamsburg is a very quaint place, but it’s—and especially back then there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I mean, it wasn’t a big, you know, pop around kind of joint. So basically you had to make your own fun. And my friends did that.
And we’re friends to this day. We get together and we communicate all the time, the people that…they’re like actually brothers and sisters, the people I was with in my class, met in class. Even the people two or three years ahead of me were all like a family. You know, you could stop by and visit in the senior girls’ dorm and they would share their food and give you a pep talk or something like that.
00:34:01 The other things, you know, the TA thing was kind of a need to be more involved in my department and really have an impact there, and get some experience. The OA thing was I had a good OA so I thought I want to serve that way.
And then of course I’d sung in church, so, you know, it was another way to get socializing. When I would sing, I had to get out and do things, because I could easily have been a recluse. Easily. And I was determined you’re not going to waste these four years without having a great experience, not only the education that you’re coming to get, but also the other part of college, which is socialization. So that’s why I did all those things.
Carmen: It sounds like you established community through that as well.
Carmen: It’s really critical.
Connie: Very much so.
Carmen: So…well, I just want to hone in on a couple of those things you were involved in. So Alpha Phi Alpha is the first African American intercollegiate Greek letter fraternity. And the William & Mary chapter was chartered in 1975, but really you were a member during its kind of formative years. So what was it like being part of a fraternity like that?
Connie: Well, what’s interesting is that when I went to school a fraternity was not on my mind, despite the fact that my father had been in a fraternity, a different fraternity, at Clark. But then when I got there, the Alphas—they were Alpha, at the time—used to have a freshman dinner to welcome all the freshmen. That’s how I first met the guys. I went to the freshman dinner. It was a free meal, so that’s practical and whatever, so I’m going!
So I met them and, you know, they were good guys and what have you, but I still was focusing on I had to study, I had to get my books done, books that my father had bought. It just so happens that when I was there, I think almost everybody in the chapter was going to graduate, and so if you didn’t have enough people the chapter would become defunct. And it was already on a humble that they were given a charter.
00:36:02 And thanks be to our advisor, [William] Foster, who negotiated and said listen, we can make it happen at a school when at the time there were 107 black students when I got there, and [I] roughly half had met. Him trying to have a fraternity. [unintelligible] 00:36:17 fraternity somebody had to be, some couldn’t make it, some of them had a dream… whatever, we’re not interested.
So to really answer your question, but anyway, Alpha kind of came to me as well and, you know, for themselves, and I was like, all right, let’s see what this is about. And so I went to a meeting, they gave information, it was very impressive, like oh, they would accept me. So they did. So I joined and pledged—as we used, a bad word. They don’t call it pledging anymore. And I became the president when everybody graduated.
00:36:57 So at that point we had to still work on trying to keep numbers so we wouldn’t become defunct, and my goal was to try to get us some sort of house because, you know, there were frat houses, but we were too small to have a frat house, because they had like about thirty people and we had like seven, or six, or whatever the heck we had. So I was negotiating for two years when all of a sudden they gave us the Lambert House across from Barrett my senior year, and that became our fraternity house. We only had it for a year, but that wasn’t the fault of the school. It was the fault of some brothers who didn’t want to live in it next year. But my efforts paid off.
Carmen: Yeah, successful.
Connie: So it was great having that. And that’s how it was, us going to Dean Sadler and some other people saying listen, “What are you going do for your boy?” and that kind of thing, so… So it was because, you know, obviously we do things differently. We don’t go through a traditional rush or whatever, the fraternity house does or whatnot. We’re like the outsiders in the way that we do things. But certainly people were fascinated by us because of our presentation.
00:38:02 I mean, we’re walking around with stuff around our necks, and we’re greeting people, and walking in line and whatnot. The other fraternities are not doing that stuff. People were like, “What is going on?” you know, and they were just fascinated by that. So I think that that education, other people had never seen a black fraternity before was pretty interesting.
Then also trying to be also a hub of social life of black students as well. I would think 95% of the parties that were thrown were thrown by us or still by us, it was done by the BSO, because the BSO president was my fraternity brother as well. And the guy who was DJ-ing was my fraternity brother as well. So we pretty much were doing a lot of the social stuff for the campus, other than the Deltas. They did some things, the sorority that we had.
So that was, I think, the challenge of trying to be understood and trying to be appreciated. I think happily what you have now, the organization has survived, you know, 30, whatever it is now, 32 years later—no, 40 years later.
00:39:03 And…’75, right, 42 years later. And we now just had our 100th member this past year. So for an organization, a chapter to even survive to now have had 100 members. And we’ve had a slew of guys that are like lawyers now, and we’ve had some doctors. We’ve got educators, we’ve got business types, financiers, so the guys have done well and we’re pretty proud of what they’ve done.
Carmen: That’s something worth celebrating, for sure. Do you have any sort of reunions or anything, or events where like alumni can come back and speak with a current individual who’s part of the chapter?
Connie: Yes. I mean, I go back a lot so we see them a lot. But we tend to have chapter reunions, official reunions, every five years. We had a very nice one…I think it was our 30th. I forget exactly what it was. We actually had it at Swem.
Carmen: Oh. Okay, great.
Connie: And then brunch in the bottom where the…
Carmen: Yeah, the gallery?
Connie: The gallery, right. We had a big thing there. It was pretty nice and the library brought out the old yearbooks and old stuff they had in the archives and laid it out and had a great brunch down there. We hadn’t had that many brothers back on campus since December [unintelligible] 00:40:28.
Carmen: That sounds great. In Special Collections we like bringing things out any time we have opportunities.
Connie: Yeah, we didn’t know you had all that stuff. So like on the library board, which you didn’t mention I was part of as well, but that’s as an alumnus, obviously, I found this out. So now I try to tell the current guys, look, all this stuff you got just laying it around, they’re able to digitize it or keep it or preserve it. You might want to consider giving it to the college library so that it won’t be lost.
Carmen: Definitely. And we’re still, because of the celebrations surrounding the 50th, we’re still going in and looking because our collections are so vast, but we’re still going in and looking and finding things we didn’t know we had. And we’re also, huge collection effort because we’re doing a bunch of exhibits around the 50th, and so anyone who wants to donate anything, we are taking it.
Connie: I’ll keep pushing it.
Carmen: So we’re talking about all the things you were involved in at the school and your experience with the fraternity. I was wondering, you might have…you would have had an outside perspective because at the time your fraternity didn’t have a house, but I was noticing, when I was going through the Flat Hats in the early 1980s, the Flat Hat was covering these sexual assaults that were happening outside the campus, and I think they really honed in on fraternities, and fraternities had to respond to those claims because obviously the social atmosphere. And I don’t know if you ever had any memory of that going on or had to address that in any way as part of your fraternity.
Connie: During my time there, no. Certainly when I was president, no, because the chapter was mostly the guys I pledged with, and I knew them well.
Connie: They couldn’t have possibly done that—it would’ve been harder for them, because we, at the time, didn’t have a house.
Carmen: Right, of course. Okay, just wanted to check because the Flat Hat, you know, covers all sorts of things.
Connie: It does.
Carmen: We talked about your experience in the fraternity, and actually that it had such close ties to the BSO because members, you’d be a member of both, obviously. So what was the experience of being a member of the BSO specifically? What sort of events or actions or activities did you all participate in?
Connie: Well, BSO was a natural place to land when you’re coming to a place where you don’t really know anybody and you’re looking at folks who look like you.
00:43:00 And the fact that it existed was like a godsend, I felt. The BSO was a place that I think you come and share concerns, experiences. It was a social outlet, along with the fraternity. And sometimes the BSO would be a sponsor of activities that we would then do as a fraternity. The BSO maybe sponsored Ebony Expressions singing somewhere. It was kind of a partnership type thing. But not my fraternity. Now my roommate, actually, Shawn Keyes, was president for a little while, and so it was almost like [unintelligible] by Alpha because, like I said, we did the parties, and we were running the organization. So it was [unintelligible] 00:43:56 organization.
Carmen: And did you feel like Ebony Expressions offered a similar sort of environment? I don’t know how many individuals from BSO were in Ebony Expressions.
Connie: Most of the people in Ebony Expressions were in the BSO. Ebony Expressions was a decent sized organization then. And I think one of the big highlights probably my—yeah, because I pledged that spring—was the founder, Tim Allmond, was a music major, and I guess all music majors have to do some kind of special project or something to graduate, and a recital. And Tim was a voice major. And so Tim got approved that he could do his recital at Phi Beta Kappa Hall, and we accompanied him. And I know my parents came down for it. And just giving a performance in Phi Beta Kappa Hall is amazing. We did two parts. We did a part where we were just singing in like formal wear.
00:45:01 And then we also did a part we were dressed up from this opera by Scott Joplin called “Treemonisha.” It was just great the reception that we got, and PBK was comfortably full that night.
And we were on a couple of tours. We’d go sing in the neighborhood, and also one time we went up to…we were in Boston? We were someplace in a church once where we sang. So Expressions was a great way to just commune, but also since it was mostly spiritual and religious music, many of us have a Christian background so kind of it was a way to kind of keep that going.
Carmen: Definitely. Do you have recordings of these laying around that…?
Connie: Ebony Expressions?
Carmen: Yeah, that we could listen to?
Connie: I do.
Carmen: Oh, okay.
Connie: I thought that I gave a copy to the library.
Carmen: It very well might be. I’ll look when I get back and let you know.
Connie: In fact what you have should be a CD of that recital.
Carmen: Oh. It could very well be in my office then. I have all sorts of digital stuff there. I’ll look and let you know.
Connie: See if it’s there.
Carmen: But I want to hear the recital.
Connie: If you don’t have it I can probably get the copy I have duplicated.
Carmen: Okay. Well, if you gave it to the library I’m sure our archivist has put that somewhere because she is on top of her game, so I will find it.
Connie: There should be a copy of it.
Carmen: Okay, great. That sounds awesome. And then you were a member of the Affirmative Action Committee. And who was the…his name was…Dale Robinson, was he the affirmative action coordinator? Did you work alongside him?
Connie: What’s his name?
Carmen: Dale Robinson. Yeah, Dale Robinson.
Connie: It sounds vaguely familiar. The thing about the Affirmative Action Committee is that I don’t remember a whole lot about how much we met and what came of it.
00:47:02 I do remember that they had a meeting or two that I attended, but I just can’t say what the action items were and what happened.
Carmen: Well, it would be a lot for me to expect you to, I guess, after all this time.
Connie: Yeah, right.
Carmen: But I thought I’d ask.
Connie: Oh, sure.
Carmen: This was the ‘80s, and there are different nationwide or worldwide sociopolitical things going on. Did you see anything play out on campus, something that happened in the broader world that played out on campus when you were there?
Connie: Well, late ‘70s, that played out. That stands out in my mind…? I can’t remember too much. Because I think I tend to remember the things that either had a big negative impact or had a big positive impact, but something in the gray zone has been put off into the sea of “I Don’t Remember That”.
Carmen: Got to make room for other things, right?
Connie: Exactly. That doesn’t mean I won’t remember it, but right now I’m like, eh, not too much. I’m sure there’s something. If I think about it, it might come to me later.
Carmen: Well, that’s fine. We can make this one in a series of…
Carmen: Just throughout the next several years we’ll come back annually.
Connie: I’ll try to remember that.
Carmen: I like that idea. I guess we should get through this one first and you can tell me how your experience was with it. But you mentioned earlier, right when we said that, I said the ‘80s, but you reminded me that it was really the late ‘70s and that you actually graduated in December of 1980. Why did you graduate early? Just because you were finished with your degree?
Connie: Yes, I did. Because I was a science major taking labs, a lot of my semesters were like 16 hours, maybe 17 hours. That added up. And then plus I decided to take physics one summer because I didn’t want to try to juggle advanced bio and/or chemistry and a physics class. That’s just too much. I didn’t want to try to set myself up for failure.
00:49:02 I took physics in the summer and knocked that out. It was a premed requirement. And those hours transferred as well. So I was done with all my hours in December, and I really toyed with the idea of just going back to school for the spring and take a bunch of easy courses and have a good time, take the minimum, 12 hours. But then I said that wouldn’t be fair to tell my parent s I had to do that and have them pay all that extra money and I had no good [reason] for why I needed to be there, so I just told them I’m done.
Carmen: When did you start medical school, the following fall?
Carmen: What did you do in your down time in between?
Connie: You know, I actually was able to, because of a… A coworker of my mom’s mother worked at a senior citizens hotel, and they hired me to be the evening switchboard operator. Miss Evelyn Black taught me how to run the switchboard, old fashioned switchboard.
00:49:02 And with all these seniors there. And this was a chance to work with—I hadn’t worked a lot with the elderly before. And they just loved me to death, and we got along, I got to just interact with them. And then I was running the switchboard—it was kind of cool. So I was able to make a little money during those several months leading up to medical school. And then I did. It was great, great experience.
Carmen: That’s an awesome little intermission in your academic—
Connie: It was a great experience, I’m telling you. Yeah, it really was.
Carmen: A switchboard. Just to know what it would be like.
Connie: Yeah, look at it like, “Oh my god, how do I do it?” But she taught me. Took a chance on me and I didn’t let her down, so…
Carmen: If I ever need help operating a switchboard.
Connie: Well, yeah. I’m sure things are probably more complicated now. But with the old fashioned one, with just like plugging stuff in, I could do it.
Carmen: They looked more complicated then, I think, but…
Carmen: So this is a good transition to your life post William & Mary. So you started medical school in the fall. Well, I guess a big question is how has your William & Mary educational experience played out in your life?
Connie: William & Mary’s experience, first of all, prepared me well for medical school because I think the foundation that I was given there enabled me to build upon that when I got to medical school. Medical school was a lot of work. It’s not impossible, but you have to just buckle down and do it. And certainly being a bio major I had to do the same thing at William & Mary. So I think the change for me was now I’m being thrust into, for the first time in ten years, a predominantly black environment, which was different. But I slipped back into it very easily.
00:51:57 But after ten years of just being like one of just a handful of black Americans at school to a place where everybody’s almost—not everybody, but most people are black, and you’ve got black instructors. It was a very integrated place at Howard where I decided to go. But it was just easy to do because I had been at William & Mary and done what I had to do there. And they made me hone some good skills as far as studying and time management, so it helped there. I’d go up to people, say, “Ah, that wasn’t difficult.” And I had come out of my shell at William & Mary, so I was able to do a lot more at Howard and get involved in activities and leadership and what have you.
Carmen: So we talked about one thing but we can bring it back up. Could you talk about the ways you’re still involved with William & Mary, or have continued to be involved with William & Mary after you left the school?
Connie: Well, mostly through…well, for a while I was part of the Hulon Willis Association Board, in its infancy. I think more of my interaction with the school is I tended to donate to funds. And I donated some money, kept donating money and eventually somebody said you should be on one of the boards, so that’s how I ended up on the library board, because I had given some money to the school. And so that was a great experience that I did for a year or two, whatever, probably two years.
And they wanted me to keep doing it, but some stuff was happening in life that I just said I can’t do another run of this right now, so I just stopped doing everything. Because I’m the kind of person that, I try to go all in when I’m doing something. And I tend to thrive when I’m overextended, but—
Carmen: Noticing that.
Connie: But some stuff was happening in my life and it was like I need a break, and so I’m going to take a break from it all. So I didn’t let myself get reelected to anything that I was involved in, whether it was that or whether it was William & Mary or anything else. Because that’s more of my interaction with the school.
And also I tend to go back and visit a lot because I just love to visit the campus and going back. So that’s pretty much, right now, the extent. I do not participate like I should with the local chapter. I went once last year, and it was nice to go to, and I probably should go again, and I probably will. I get pretty busy at time times, so I tend not to go. But I probably will get involved with the local chapter.
Carmen: You’ve mentioned it, so I wanted to ask what it was like being part of the Hulon Willis Association and its formation during those infancy years.
Connie: It was a struggle, I thought, because I think we were trying to define what was the goal and then what would our role be, trying to, for me anyway, and trying to instill in people that went there a desire to come and support the school, and not only just support the African Americans that might be there, but it is your alma mater, and try to give back.
But I think some people—and this happens at any school—some people have problems or struggles at institutions and once they get through by the skin of their teeth, they’re done, no matter what their experience was. And I ran across that in medical school, too. People, some of them don’t want to give back, and I don’t remember their story.
00:56:02 So that was…I think we had ill defined goals. So I think that that’s one reason why…I don’t think it ever became defunct, defunct, but I do believe that it kind of settled down and not too much happened, and then now it’s kind of like resurrecting. And actually, the current president was one of my fraternity brothers, too, Thomas Johnson, and they just had a big thing in D.C. I couldn’t go to, which probably went well.
Carmen: It went very well.
Connie: Yeah. So I think that they’ve become a little more focused on what they want to do. And I think it’s helpful that is happening now with all the different celebrations and remembrances of parts of the college and experiences thereof.
Carmen: Only a few more questions. I know you’re giving us a large part of your evening. What changes have you seen at William & Mary over time, and what do you think of those changes?
Connie: Well, I’m amazed at the physical plant changes. I don’t halfway know the school anymore, quite honestly, I mean, all these great buildings that they’ve put in. And I look at what the students have now at the Sadler Center. Our focus was the campus center back in the day, you know, it was like the big whoop. And when you compare that to the Sadler Center, it’s like that was a shack compared to the Sadler Center.
We didn’t have pool tables and all this kind of fancy stuff. We had Little Theater which is where the bulk of our parties were held. And we used to have the ballroom, which is now a bunch of offices and whatnot, that’s where we had our big formal once a year, the fraternity or what have you. So I’m really impressed with that and the dorms that have been built and the plans for more things to come.
00:57:53 I think that it’s very interesting that the college seems a lot more diverse than ever, which I think is encouraging, that they have so many cultures that contributed to this experience, the William & Mary experience. I think it makes everybody better to have those interactions. So I have seen that, and I think that’s very positive.
I’m curious to see the direction of the school once you replace President Reveley. I don’t know what the goals of the school are going to be. But I hope they will continue to make the school better and more well known and their eyes on the right things. I mean, it’s very impressive where it is now, and it makes me very proud to be an alum. You say oh, we’re at this level now. To be a public institution, it’s really amazing to have the reputation that it has.
Connie: So I like the direction it’s going in. I don’t know a lot of the nuances. There might be some things, like maybe the faculty’s not getting the money they should get, I don’t know.
00:58:59 I think that’s probably an issue, do they get what they deserve. I hope that that can be rectified. I don’t know how the staff is getting compensated. But I think it’s a challenge at a lot of institutions, so I’m hoping that those things go along and get rectified in the future.
Carmen: Any other changes you would like to see at William & Mary in the future, or any hopes you have for it?
Connie: Well, I would like to see them continue to expand, but not mess up the beauty of the campus. I don’t ever want to see them build so much stuff that the trees are all gone and it becomes too dense.
00:59:55 If you have to spread out, spread out judiciously and carefully, but don’t ever take away the nature on the campus. I think that’s part of the charm of the school is just the physical plant and the way it looks. It just gives me a great feeling when I come there.
I can’t imagine what else I really need to see them do. I would really like to see them find a way, though, to accommodate the minority fraternities and sororities. I think that there’s got to be some way. Now, we can’t fill those houses along over there by William & Mary Hall and the commons. We can’t fill those.
But I really do think that the same way they were able to get us Lambert House and we used to have the Lodges—we had a lodge at one time, too, then the Deltas had a lodge, and I think the Deltas had a house, too. They had more members. I can’t believe that they can’t find someplace for that, some house for those organizations.
01:00:54 I’m sorry that Ebony Expressions is defunct. I wish there was a way that—and I think it probably was an acquisition—I wish there was a way that they could find some funding or help us to organize to get funding for that, and they could find somebody to do that, because I think that’s a very necessary organization, because it’s very historical. It’s been there since almost the beginning. And for it to be gone now is kind of unfortunate.
So off the top of my head that’s the main things that I can think of. But the school seems to be doing pretty well. It’ll be interesting to know if they ever decide, make the decision about this medical school affiliation. They’ve talked about that with EVMS, which actually I got into. I opted not to go, you know, because I could save money to go to Howard. I was so impressed. And I’m pretty sure that the fact that I graduated from William & Mary was helpful in them giving me the nod.
01:01:56 At the time they had a class of 100 they were accepting, only 3% from out of state. I was an out of state student. They gave me a seat. And then I remember very vividly there were three guys that interview at a time. It was a Ph.D. student and M.D. And we were reading my information. The guy read that I went to William & Mary and finished in three and a half years, and involuntarily I saw his eyebrows go up like that. I was like, okay. And so I was really proud when I got accepted, like that’s William & Mary at work. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Definitely. That’s great. So I was thinking about this Ebony Expressions revival. If you retire in the next couple years you could go back. That could be your next post career. Just go revive Ebony Expressions.
Connie: Well, there’s an interest. I mean, some of us who were involved in it back then, there have been a couple of reunion concerts—
Carmen: That’s what I was going to ask.
Connie: —at homecomings. There wasn’t anything last year, but we did one about three or four years ago, and Mr. Keys was really interested. I met one of my classmates, who was actually a person in Alpha Kappa Alpha on campus. We’re hopeful. I just hope that that interest is still there because the students are so diverse now there’s not a—it seems to me that there’s not as much of a need for everybody to cluster to a black experience because everybody’s so mainstream. But they come from different environments. So we get it.
But I still think that there are enough that still have some of that experience that they would like it. And I think even on top of that it’s still good for the student body on the whole, because we would get a lot of people at our concerts that were not black. Would come to our step shows, our fraternity. In fact one white fraternity—was it Alpha Tau, somebody—they wanted to learn to step, so we taught them how to step. So, you know, it was like give and take, which was great.
Carmen: Sure. Well, you’ll have to let me know if there is another reunion concert on the horizon because I want to be there.
Connie: Okay. We’ll make sure you know.
Carmen: So considering we’re about to kick off the celebration for the 50th anniversary of African Americans in residence at the college, can you tell us what you believe to be the value of diversity and inclusion?
Connie: That’s an interesting question. I think the value is understanding people that you normally don’t cohabitate with, interact with. And I think if you do you will have broader people. I think that’s the sad part. We tend to stay in our little segments, segregated areas, and I think that that’s unfortunate, because I can learn from you and you can learn from me. And you can realize we have a lot of common…we’re more common than we are different.
01:05:00 And so I think that the diversity piece is great and that it’s going to allow everybody to learn just a little bit more about other people’s cultures. I think it’s enriching. It enriches your own life when you get a chance to learn these things, and interact with people, and develop friendships with people who have a different experience than yours.
And also you can actually dispel some falsehoods about what you’ve been taught to believe that, okay, this is how this person is going to be, and they’re not like that at all. You know, over here, someone says…well, no, they’re really just regular people, just having like this versus that. So I think that’s very important. I think the inclusion piece could stop some of the unnecessary strife, stress and confrontations because we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Let’s not worry about like, you know, oh, you’re better than me, I’m better than you, and you think you’re this, you think you’re that.
01:05:55 It’s like look, we’re all trying to make it a better world, I would think. That should really be the goal. And the way this country is going right now, it’s not going to help the country. The country’s going to get weakened if we keep having internal strife. We’re going to implode. That’s the way I feel about it.
And we have to kind of come together as just people, you know, whether it’s just, not just, you know, people from Illinois, from William & Mary, people from America, as humans. We’ve got to share this earth. So I think it’s very important that we start in populations that are fixed. And certainly college populations are kind of fixed. I mean, they’re dynamic in that they roll over. But they’re fixed. And they’ve got to share, you know, space with some people at least three or four, five years. Hopefully not five, but you know.
Carmen: You never know.
Connie: You never know. But five beats “you don’t make it at all.” So I think that’s…
01:06:53 I’m very impressed and grateful that the college is doing this, that they recognize that you do have this group of alumni who, there are many of us who care deeply about the school, and we embrace the school as ours, and want to see it succeed, and want to give back to it.
And the fact that they—I went down for the dedication of Hardy and Lemon Hall magnificent thing of my life. I thought, “William & Mary is doing this, really?” I couldn’t have been prouder ever of the school for doing something like that. Especially somebody that I knew, Dr. Hardy. And then to go back and deal with Mr. Lemon, who I guess was…was he an old part of the school, or was he a…? I don’t know, was he an enslaved person?
Connie: That’s amazing for a school that’s from the Old Dominion. So I couldn’t have been prouder. So I’m very grateful that the school has had this initiative to recognize the African American population.
01:08:03 And I’m trusting they’ll do all the populations, and I’m sure they will, because they’re all important. It’s like a majority is important…because everybody that taught me was the majority. I didn’t have one black professor the whole time I was there.
Connie: Not one. Because there weren’t many here. There were like three. Right? Or two. English teacher and anthropology professor. I believe that was it. I didn’t take those classes. So that was it. So, but the people, they taught me well, and no one abused me, and that’s why I’m just grateful for the school offering me and letting me go on and have whatever successes I’ve had. Part of it was from the fact that I had parents who saw fit to sacrifice to send me there. My people weren’t rich, and I didn’t get financial aid. So they found a way to finesse it and make it happen, so God bless them. So that’s my story.
Carmen: It sounds like you’ve made them proud.
Connie: I hope I did. I think I did.
Carmen: Based on that article, I already know it. And that was right when you were getting started.
Connie: Just when I was getting started, right. Exactly.
Carmen: So I’m going to open it up to you now. Is there anything you thought I’d ask but I haven’t asked yet, or anything at all that you would like to add before we close it out?
Connie: You asked a lot. Especially when you asked about the negatives and positives. You know when it’ll hit me? It’ll hit me after you’ve left and I’ll be like oh, I should have told her about this, that and the other. But I really can’t think of anything that I would need to tell you that I didn’t tell you except that the board experience was a great experience. I met some great people.
01:09:54 The fact that they were so…they embraced me. It was great. Because I was the only black person there again, as per usual. And just the fact that they were just so nice and listened to what I had to say, and took some of my advice, actually, it was great. Plus I have a great relationship with Dean Carrie Cooper, who’s just wonderful, and [unintelligible] 01:10:23 been involved with the library, so that is kind of my new connection to the school, is actually being the library and the library staff.
And when I came back last time, they took me to special collections. I was amazed that…how did I get a chance to have an individual tour of special collections, me and about four or five people taking me around special collections? They had laid out stuff for me. I was like, “Wow, who am I?” So I was very humbled by that, and I very much enjoyed it, too, to see those things.
01:10:58 And it gave me a real respect of the importance of the work the library is doing and the things that you actually want. So certainly I’ve been trying to put that out to people, listen, you didn’t know, but this is what’s going on, and you need to consider giving back not just your time and your talents, but also your resources, whether it’s monetarily or artifactually, if that’s a word, because the school’s interested in those types of things.
So yeah, that was really, really good. And that was a nice experience I wanted to talk about. But I think that’s about it. I think the school made a big effort, even when we were there, to try to reach out to us. We even had a chance to meet with then President Graves, who was the president when I was there initially, and I got a chance. He met with some of us black students, which was great.
01:11:59 So the school’s tried really hard to welcome us the best they could, because it was new. It was very new. But the fact that we had so few conflicts that I knew about was—well, we had one conflict, or [two little] conflicts. One of my Alpha Phi brothers was a white guy from Great Britain—Gary Ellis, and I think senior year Gary moved into one of the white fraternity houses, and he caught a lot of grief because he was part of the black fraternity. And they put something on his door was where it was. I don’t think it was a racial epithet, but still it was just negative. And we were going over there to raise hell. He’s like, “You can’t go over there and do anything with all these guys, they will kick your butt.”
01:12:55 We would go down and flames, and you can’t risk your education, so he wouldn’t let us go over there and confront them about that. But other than that, I had a good time. I wouldn’t change anything. I would go back again if I had to do it all over again. So yeah, it was good.
Carmen: That’s great. Well, just a couple notes before we wrap it up. One, you should come back any chance you get, and I hope you do, especially within the next year. And come back to special collections because we will take you on a tour any time. Any time you want to see the new things we have coming in, especially over this year, new things we’re coming across, things that are being donated by different individuals.
Connie: Oh, good.
Carmen: We’ll have an exhibit about the 50th right there in the rotunda outside of special collections, right when you walk in.
Connie: Okay. Right, right, right.
Carmen: So that will be going on for the whole year. We’re going to have an oral history exhibit in the entrance of Swem. It’s over to the left, and there are going to be panels.
Carmen: And when I said that these oral histories might be used for those sort of things, just know you might see your face and some quotes on a panel there, if that’s okay with you.
Connie: That’s fine.
Carmen: Then you should definitely come visit us, and I hope you do. And thank you just so much for welcoming us into your house and talking with me for hours—
Connie: Oh, my pleasure.
Carmen: —after only texting and talking on the phone to help me navigate my way to your home.
Connie: [Laughs.] I’m very happy and honored that I was even given the opportunity, so thank you. Thank you all for taking your time to do this. And hopefully it’s beneficial, it’s useful information that I gave.
Connie: Because I feel like I was just rambling, and it’s like why is he saying all this stuff? It’s not going to be helpful to us. [Laughs.]
Carmen: It is. All of it contributes to kind of piecing together that picture that we only have snippets of, you know. That helps us figure out what life was like at William & Mary for different individuals during that period of time. It’s going to be so helpful, and I can see students 100 years from now going back and seeing these oral histories and pulling out quotes for their research papers and whatever else.
Connie: Yeah, a lot of times it’s just difficult to put in words the feeling that you might have.
Connie: You just know you’re here. It’s enough you’re in college, enough. You know, you might be the first person that’s actually gone to college, or in my case, the first person to finish in my immediate family. And then, you know, there’s expectations, you know, because they spend a lot of money to put you through here, and you’ve got grandparents that are so proud that you’re even in college, and that sort of thing. So there’s a little bit of pressure that you’re going to do well, but they expect you to do well.
And then you’re at a place, like a stranger in a strange land. And then to find out you’re at a really prestigious institution on top of that, not knowing the prestige that really exists, being from the College of William & Mary, that is another whole thing which you had to kind of take in and negotiate, and how to reach out for help because no one else is doing science but you, you know, that type thing, could you help me, or have these professors, are they open to it, and all that kind of stuff.
01:16:06 So it was just…it’s just hard to put all that in words. But it’s a feeling that you experience. And I think when it works you realize that it was a good thing that you did. That’s when you go back and have a love and a laughs. I’m glad I did this. So thank you all.
Carmen: Great. And thank you so much. We really appreciate it.
01:16:27 [End of recording.]
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