Janet Brown Strafer, Karen Ely, & Lynn Briley, W&M Class of 1971

Janet Brown Strafer arrived at William & Mary in 1967 as part of the first cohort of African Americans in Residence. During her time at William & Mary she was involved in the Young Democrats and the Black Students Organization. Brown Strafer graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and again in 1977 with a Master of Education degree. She pursued a career as a Department of the Army Civilian and worked in federal service for 35 years. 

Lynn Fontanne Briley arrived at William & Mary in 1967 as part of the first cohort of African Americans in Residence. During her time at William & Mary she was involved in the Black Students Organization. Briley received a Bachelor of Arts in English and graduated in 1971. She then went on to pursue a career in education, teaching for Portsmouth Public Schools for over 40 years and continuing her career at Tidewater Community College, Portsmouth Campus. 

Karen Odell Ely arrived at William & Mary in 1967 as part of the first cohort of African Americans in Residence. During her time at William & Mary she was involved in the William & Mary Chorus, Circle K, and the Black Students Organization. Ely received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and graduated in 1971. She then went on to pursue a career in the field of radiation protection, serving as a   health physicist for over 27 years. 


William & Mary

Interviewees: Janet Brown Strafer, Karen Ely, Lynn Briley

Interviewer: Kim Sims

Interview Date: March 19, 2016                  Duration: 1:15:35


Kim:                My name is Kim Sims, and I’m the university archivist at the College of William & Mary. Today I’m interviewing, from left to right, Janet Brown Strafer, Karen Ely, and Lynn Briley, members of the class of 1971. Today’s date is March 19, 2016, and this interview is being recorded in the Pollard Room within the Alumni House at the College of William & Mary. So ladies, if you would, please, when and where were you born?

Lynn:               I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia.  

Karen:              Likewise.

Lynn:               You want me to give the date? [Laughs.] 1949.

Karen:              Likewise. I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, September 18, 1949.

Janet:               I’m Janet Strafer, as I said, and I was born in Amelia, Virginia, which is a very rural town in central Virginia, in November, 1948.


Kim:                So you were the first African American residential students at William & Mary and the first African American women to graduate. Why did you decide to attend William & Mary?

Lynn:               I decided to attend based on a suggestion from a high school guidance counselor. Also, I remember being on a band trip to Williamsburg. We marched in a parade, and I don’t know exactly what the circumstances were, but after the parade, the band members were trying to find our bus, and we were walking through the campus, and I was very impressed with the beauty of this campus. And so after talking with my parents and looking at the costs versus the costs of another college I was considering, and the proximity to my home, we decided that William & Mary would be a good choice.


Karen:              Lynn and I were in school together from third grade, but William & Mary wasn’t my first choice, Oberlin College was. But because it was out of state, my parents said, you know, if I didn’t like it, if I got homesick, it would be more difficult for them to get to me. So I had a list of schools. I had Hampton, I had Howard, I had William & Mary. Of course, you know, William & Mary has always been here, so, you know, as part of the fourth grade, I think, tour you come to Jamestown and Williamsburg, so, you know, I was familiar with the campus, per se. But after I got…applied to the schools, got my acceptance letters and looked at the financial aid packages, I decided, hm, William & Mary looks good.

00:03:00          I had two younger siblings and my father was already working seven days a week. I said there are no more days for him to work, William & Mary is it.

Janet:               Well, my decision was based exactly the opposite of Lynn’s reason. My guidance counselor told me not to come to William & Mary because it would not be a good fit for me. I had considered William & Mary. I knew it was an old school. I knew it had a good reputation in the area. Again it was close to home, as, which was, you know, similar to their reasons.

But when I mentioned it to my guidance counselor, she really discouraged me. Well, being the defiant person that I am, I was not about to do something someone told me I couldn’t do. I had to prove that I could. So I just proceeded on my own with the application process, and then, like Karen, looking at the financial aid opportunities.

00:03:57          And I wrote a very nice, long tear jerking letter to them—[laughs]—explaining how badly I needed the money, because no one in my family had been to college, and nor could they afford to send me. And so the financial aid package was important to me. And once I got the acceptance and the financial aid, that sort of sealed the deal for me.

Kim:                So why did your guidance counselor not think this would be a good fit for you?

Janet:               I don’t know. She just said she didn’t think I would be successful. Which again made me want to prove her wrong. And ironically, once I was accepted and did graduate, she boasted, when she invited me back to the school, that look what we did for her. [Laughs.] So I don’t know her reasons.

Karen:              I would like to say something that—Lynn said the guidance counselor said encouraged her. Like Janet, they didn’t encourage me.

00:04:59          But the reasons, I think, I think a couple of years before there were African American students that went to UVA, and they had a very difficult time. They were treated very poorly, the females. So they said, uh, you might want to think about something else because they might not treat you right there, as opposed to being academically successful.

Kim:                So what are your memories of your first day as students?

Lynn:               I really don’t have any memories of my first day. I just remember my family helping me unpack, get to my dorm room like all of the other students that were coming for their first day of college. I did not realize, at the time, that I was one of the first to be residential students. We didn’t know that until we got here.


Karen:              Likewise. And I think it wasn’t necessarily the very first day, but when we went to freshman orientation that it dawned on me that we were very few. We still didn’t know that we were the first residential students. I had no idea about that. But when we went to freshman orientation and Dean Lambert said look to the left, look to the right, and a lot of you won’t be here next semester. So when I looked to the left and I looked to the right, then I looked down, and then I turned around, and it’s like what have I done? I don’t believe this. It’s just us.


Janet:               Well, I’m glad when Dean Lambert said look to your left and look to your right he was wrong because I’m still here. [Laughter.]  

Karen:              All three of us.

Janet:               I wasn’t one of those that disappeared. But very similar to theirs, the first day was just like every other student, just feeling very apprehensive, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what the roommates would be like. Having to say goodbye to your family that you’ve been, you know, protected by, held close to all your life.

And I was the youngest in my family, so I was…I had a particular—and I was a late baby, so my mother and I were really closely bonded. So that was very difficult for me. But like they said, we had no idea, even into the first day of orientation, that we were the only ones here residentially. And it took some time before it really did sink in because we were so wrapped up in—

Karen:              Coming to college.

Janet:               —what to do, you know, confusion about getting classes, getting registered for things, all the things that every student went through. So we were just going through the motions of everyone else.


Kim:                So then when the Flat Hat came to you for some, I guess, an interview, I found an article in the Flat Hat October 20, 1967, and you were asked, you were all asked questions, so is that—about being the first residential African American students on campus. So we’re talking just weeks into your first semester at William & Mary. By the time the Flat Hat came to you, obviously visually you had a sense that you were a very small number.

Lynn:               Right.

Kim:                But was it then at that point you realized the significance of your being the first African Americans in residence?

Lynn:               I think it became significant because we were being interviewed by the—

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               —school newspaper. I mean, what significance was our attending here that would, you know, want the…to be interviewed by the school newspaper?

00:09:04          I do remember that article. Matter of fact, my mother saved that article. And in 1967 we were the Negro coeds, you know. We were Negroes in the ’60s. And of course we see the evolution of how we began to be identified. But the significance was that yes, we now knew that there was a milestone that had been met and that the burden on us was now to make sure that the image of the Negroes, students on…on any campus was going to be a positive one. I do remember that.

Kim:                Can you expand on that then some more? Did you feel that…was it an extra weight on you to do well not only for yourself academically, but also—


Lynn:               Well, you know, we were…this was the ‘60s. There was turmoil all over this country in the ‘60s, not only racial turmoil, but we were at war, the women’s movement, all kinds of things were going on. And it was very important, and I realized early, when I got here, that to maintain a positive image, to represent your family was very important in this setting.

Lots of students were like we were. We had never gone to school with white students. I had not. And maybe some of those students had never been in a social or academic setting with African American students. So we knew it was very important to represent the race well.


Kim:                So when you came in as freshmen, you were housed in Jefferson Hall in the basement. There were other students living in Jefferson Hall in all levels, correct?

Lynn:               Yes, there was.

Kim:                Can you describe what dorm life was like for you all?

Lynn:               I enjoyed dorm life. When we…when people say that we were in the basement, sometimes that had a negative connotation to people, but the basement was recently remodeled, and I think it was remodeled to house additional students. We were not the only ones in the basement. [Laughs.]

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               But it was a fairly renovated area of the building. Jefferson Hall was an old building, and we were in probably the…

Karen:              The best part.

Lynn:               The best pat of the building. And people don’t realize that.

Karen:              Right, right.

Lynn:               But we went to…we had dorm meetings. We met other students from other parts of the country and parts of the state. They were very friendly. I never felt any hostility at all among any of the girls in that building.


Kim:                Were there events that the dorms planned, each floor? Sometimes, you know, floors have—

Lynn:               We had activities.

Kim:                —activities among all the…

Karen:              We had meetings. I think on every floor you had like a…I think they call them RAs now, but you had a resident advisor. I think Susan was ours. And they had birthday parties if your birthday occurred, because mine was in September, so they had the little birthday party with the cupcakes.

And we got to talk about our experience, because I think freshman orientation, I think after the first day, that night someone had written the N-I-G-G-E-R on the sidewalk, so that was upsetting to us. And I think we had a dorm meeting the next night to talk about that, and if anything bothered us.

00:13:05          Because we did a whole lot of going back and forth in other students’ rooms, you know. I was surprised about that because I was the only girl, so I never had to share things like clothes and things like that. And people would run in your room, go in your closet. [Laughter.] It was like, what is going on? But they sent them to the dry cleaners and all of that, so it was like… I wasn’t used to being around other girls, really. So it was a good bonding experience, I think.

Lynn:               The only concern that may have arisen is our house mother. Our house mother was born and raised in South Africa, and the ‘60s was really the height of apartheid. I never knew much about apartheid. I only knew a little bit about it. But it wasn’t a global consideration in the ‘60s.

00:14:07          I mean, that just was South Africa. And we kind of never felt any hostility or never felt intimidated, or she never even mentioned her cultural upbringing to us, and we just never felt at all threatened by someone who was born and raised under an apartheid regime. So I don’t know how you all felt.

Janet:               Well, except for one time.

Lynn:               Okay, okay, you may have.

Janet:               That I vividly remember. At one time we were, you know, always walking around the campus, and there were three army…three soldiers from Fort Eustis who used to come to campus just walking around. They were privates. They were our…the same age we were. And I don’t remember now how we met them, but we established a friendship with them, and just purely friendship.

00:15:00          And they would come up on weekends, and in our dorm there were little rooms where, if people came to visit, you would entertain them. And we would sit in those rooms and play cards or just talk. If we had any money we might go out to eat. But she didn’t like that. And I do remember her calling us in to her residential area once and telling—reminding us—and this is where the apartheid comes in—that the blue birds stayed with the blue birds and the red birds stayed with the red birds, and they didn’t mix.

And that was a message to me, that was a message to us, that we shouldn’t be socializing with—because these young soldiers were all white soldiers. I think two were white and one was Puerto Rican or something. But anyway, she didn’t like the mixing. And that was probably the only time that she really, you know, openly said something. Pretty much other than that she kind of ignored us, I think.

Lynn:               Pretty much.


Janet:               Hoping we’d go away, probably.

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               She was just one of those…she was a very strict house mother.

Janet:               Yeah, she was.

Lynn:               That could have been being a house mother. You know, you don’t need to bring these young men…

Karen:              No…

Lynn:               To the…to the dorm. But, you know, she was very strict.

Kim:                So what was your major at William & Mary and why did you choose that major?

Lynn:               My major was English. I have a bachelor’s in English. And I think I chose English because I had some great English teachers in my high school. I just liked English. And I know of a couple of professors. One was a Mr. [Green] and one was a Dr. Fehrenbach, and those are the only two I remember in that English Department. But I really enjoyed reading, the poetry. I just enjoyed English. And it wasn’t English education at the time. I became an educator afterwards. But it was just a strict love for English and literature.


Karen:              For me it was…biology was my major. I needed to learn observation skills, for one thing. I was, you know, if I was not interested in something, I was oblivious to what was going on around me, so that was one thing. And I always liked the sciences. Plus I was thinking about minoring in music, but my piano skills were horrible, so I said you know what, I’ll just stay with the sciences, because I know I’ll eventually get a job when I graduate.

Janet:               For me, I started out as a Spanish major because in high school I had had four years of Spanish, and I liked learning languages, and I had visions of working at the UN or something, you know, nice like that.

00:17:58          And after two years of going to Spanish classes, my…I didn’t feel as though… The Spanish Department, at that time, was not really the strongest on the campus, and the instructors I had, I didn’t feel like I was learning a lot more than what I had learned already. I was making the grades in it, but I still didn’t feel like I was progressing.

And so at the end of my sophomore year I had to decide what I was going to do, since I was no longer wanting to pursue that. So then it became a matter of efficiency, what can I change to that will not cause me to have to attend another semester or another year because I wouldn’t have enough credits to graduate. And so I remember my grandmother always telling me I want you to be one of two things, a school teacher or a nurse. Well, I wasn’t going into nursing, so I said well, let me check out the elementary education part.

00:19:01          And so I did. I went to the Education Department and talked with some people there, talked with my advisor, and we decided yes, it could be done with the core education, you know, courses I had taken, and then what I needed to take to complete on time for elementary education would work. And so as I got into it I was glad I had done it because I really enjoyed it, and I did get my bachelor’s degree and my master’s in education, and I taught in a public school here in Williamsburg for…for five years after that.

Kim:                So in April, 1969 President Paschall announced an end to coed dress regulations. In May of 1969 women students voted in favor of the liberalization of social regulations largely pertaining to extending curfews and banning the need for blue cards, which required women to account for their whereabouts outside Williamsburg during social hours.


Lynn:               I don’t even remember that.

Kim:                So can you describe the social freedoms you did have as women on campus? And what were some of the rules about dress, behavior, and/or curfews, and how did they differ from those of men?

Lynn:               Well, I do remember when we came to campus women were not allowed to wear pants or jeans, slacks or jeans. I do remember that.

Janet:               Unless you’re going on a field trip.

Lynn:               Right. And so we adhered to the dress code. I remember wearing suits to the football games.

Karen:              Mm-hmm.

Lynn:               Yeah, we wore suits.

Karen:              And heels.

Lynn:               Dress suits. You know, that’s how strict the code was. And I do remember some protests from women’s…from the women that sort of relaxed those codes a bit, and then we were able to wear jeans and pants. A little bit more comfortable, I guess. But that’s all I remember.


Karen:              Well, I remember one day trying to get ready for class, you know, first class 8:00, you go to breakfast, you know, you’ve got to run to class. And I think I had some shorts on underneath an all weather coat. And apparently my coat must have fallen open. Of course you had the honor code. Somebody turned me in. [Laughter.]  

So I ended up in Dean Donaldson’s office talking about I wasn’t in dress code. But that’s all she said. And I think I got called back in another time because it was exam time and I had pajamas on. [Laughter.] Under my coat, and one of the pants legs slid down, and honor code, somebody told, and I was back in Dean Donaldson’s office again, but just about that.

00:22:01          Another experience. I took…the first chemistry class I took was in the summer, so again, no pants, no shorts, no jeans. And I had on this cute little…we could wear culottes, so I had on Navy blue and white polka dot culottes. Okay, in lab, of course, we didn’t have lab coats, and we had the aprons. Okay, now this is summertime. There was no air conditioning in the chemistry building, so it was hot. We were doing some experiment.

I got some results I didn’t expect, so I had spilled something on the apron, and it was fine because it was rubberized. But I jumped up and some went on my clothes. Well, the clothes at that time, they were polyester. So I sprayed some water on it, you know, and washed my hands, told the lab instructor, uh, I’m going back to the dorm.

00:23:00          Well, I forgot exactly where the chemistry building was, but I had to go through the…walk across campus to get to the dorm. Well, it started out as a red spot. By the time I got to the dorm I was nude. I just made it in the shower, I mean, my clothes disappeared. So had I had on something like denim at the time that didn’t have polyester in it, it would have kind of protected me. And guys could wear jeans.

Janet:               Well, guys could wear anything, and they really did wear anything. I mean, they had cutoffs, and ragged strings hanging from their shirts and whatever. It didn’t matter what they wore. But as they’ve said, the dress for women was very strict. And if you had on slacks or any kind of pants, you couldn’t even walk between dormitories unless you put a coat on over it.

00:23:58          And so that was—and for me, having grown up with two brothers, and quite a tomboy, getting rid of my pants was a big deal for me because that was what I always wore, and enjoyed it. But, you know, as Lynn said, we adhered to the dress code. We did what was right, what we were told was right.

But I also remember—and I think we talked about this before, and the two of them don’t remember this, but we had a book. The women were given a book with all of the rules in it of everything we could do or couldn’t do—mostly what we couldn’t do. [Laughs.] The coulds were few. But I remember at the time before this…the president relaxed the codes, on the athletic field, I think out behind Barrett dorm there was a lacrosse field or something out there, and we went out and we burned those books. And the two of you don’t remember that.

Lynn:               I don’t remember that.


Janet:               But I remember we all went out—I know I did.

Karen:              I remember that blue card, though.

Janet:               And we burned the books. So that was sort of our, you know, protest.

Lynn:               Part of the protest movement here on campus.

Janet:               Protest movement as far as the dress code. But as Karen mentioned just now, we had these blue cards, and any time we were going to be out of the dorm—

Karen:              Yeah, we had to…

Janet:               —we had to say where we’re going, what time we were going to be back. And we had to flip the card when we left, and when we came back we had to flip it, and at the end of every night before, you know, curfew, or at curfew, the hall advisor, counselor, I guess she was called, she would go and check to see whose card was flipped and whose card wasn’t. Of course I guess they didn’t realize that sometimes people just went and flipped somebody’s card.

Karen:              Yeah. We would, we would do it. But they did bed checks, too, though.

Janet:               And they did bed checks. And our room was on the very end of the basement, right next to the door, and so we were popular with some girls because they would, rather than coming in through the front door of the dorm—

Karen:              Or they didn’t make it.


Janet:               —or they didn’t make it—

Karen:              Before 1:00.

Janet:               —they would come to the end and tap on our window, and we’d go up and open the door and let them in.

Karen:              Then you already flipped their card for them.

Janet:               And they had already flipped their cards. So, you know, college students are college students. [Laughs.]

Karen:              And I remember your parents had to sign a card that said, you know, when you could go out because mine had…I couldn’t even go home without calling them. They had said no to everything, so that means… They loved the rules here.

Kim:                Why do you think women were socially restricted?

Lynn:               Those were the times.

Karen:              Yeah.

Lynn:               The women’s movement was just getting started nationally. And, you know, we had gender roles, and that’s how we… We adhered to our roles as women. We had less freedoms than males. And William & Mary, very traditional.

Karen:              Traditional.


Lynn:               And so we had to adhere to those…to those rules.

Janet:               I’ve thought about this question a lot, and just recently I came upon this decision as to why we had so many rules. As you look at things happening in the media, where anything that happens to a woman, the question comes did the woman cause it. And so I’m thinking were those rules there because historically, the responsibility for keeping men within the moral boundaries has somehow rested with women, and by keeping the women in their place—out of sight, in the dorms, locked away—was that helping to keep the men within their moral boundaries, social moral boundaries.

And so once again, we were bearing that burden instead of putting the burden where it belonged, on them and being responsible for their own behavior. And I could be totally off base, but it just…I just wonder maybe somewhere back in the male psyche, because they wrote the rules, that was part of the issue, or was part of the thinking.


Karen:              And I think that…I think to a certain degree that was part of the thinking because one of the things that people didn’t talk about was date rape that was happening at the time, because this was an open campus as far as alcohol. I had never seen so much in my life.

Rape in general, the campus itself was open, so you had people coming from Fort Eustis, people coming from Eastern State. They had a bus that stopped right up here on Dog Street every Friday, and they would come and come across campus. And because the dorms were only locked at certain times, people would be wandering through buildings all the time.

00:28:57          But there were rapes that occurred on campus. Nobody wanted to talk about that. But as students in the dorm, you heard. You heard students crying. Then weekends, when they would go to frat parties, people would drink too much, things would happen. They didn’t…that got pushed under the rug. So things happened that they didn’t want to talk about.

Kim:                They didn’t want to deal with it, do you think?

Karen:              You know, the college was very good at protecting its reputation, and no one wanted to admit that certain things happened because you didn’t want the perception that it was unsafe. And that was one of the reasons I kind of liked it when they made the dorms coed because then people couldn’t distinguish where the guys were and where just females were, and it was safer. It was louder because they…with guys came all the big speakers.

00:30:02          But it was actually safer for us. Because we found people wandering through, while you were getting dressed, we were getting dressed for homecoming or whatever. You’re running down the hall in your underwear, and you’re putting on makeup and look in the mirror and say who is this guy?

Kim:                So you had curfews, but they did not enforce any sort of security at the doors. Like now you have—

Karen:              Not during the day.

Janet:               Not during the day.

Karen:              They locked it at night, but during the day, when you were…anybody could walk in because the doors were unlocked. And we didn’t even lock our dorm rooms.

Lynn:               No, we never locked our dorm rooms, because we had honor codes, so we adhered to the honor codes. But there was somebody always at the front desk—

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               —admitting people, you see. You had to sign in.

Karen:              But you could come through the side doors. You could come through the end doors.


Kim:                You know, it’s interesting because right after President Graves came on board, one of the first things he did was abolish the curfew. So at that point neither women nor men had curfews. And then in the Flat Hat you start to see more articles about sexual assault on campus, and then it becomes, oh, is it because the women no longer have a curfew. And just in the past few years, since I’ve been here at William & Mary, William & Mary has been in the news because of its perceived or legitimate…how do I say this? Not focusing or bringing to the forefront sexual assault aspects—

Lynn:               The safety issues.

Kim:                —or safe issues.

Karen:              But they were happening before.

Kim:                So it’s really interesting…right.

Janet:               As they were on other campuses.

Kim:                Sure.

Lynn:               Yeah, it’s all the…

Janet:               This situation is not unique to William & Mary.

Lynn:               No, no.

Janet:               I mean, look at any campus, anywhere, and it has always happened.

Kim:                Sure.


Janet:               And I think it’s because women are becoming more vocal, and social media is, you know, so prevalent that anything that happens to anybody is, instantly everyone knows about it. And when we were coming up, obviously none of that existed. You might tell your friend, you might tell your roommate, and you might tell, you know, somebody else, but… Again, and because women were so…because we knew we’d be blamed somehow.

Lynn:               Right. You didn’t tell—

Janet:               We were reluctant to even say anything.

Lynn:               Report anything.

Janet:               —to anyone in authority because you either wouldn’t be believed or you would become so interrogated that you’d just wish you’d never said anything. Which still is the case.

Karen:              Mm-hmm.

Kim:                I feel like moving from a heavy subject to something really lighthearted, and I apologize. I was just going to ask if you had a favorite professor, and if so, why was he or she, you know, your favorite? Was there someone whose class you took that just really made an impact on your life?


Lynn:               I just remember my two English teachers. One was a Dr. Green, one was a Dr. Fehrenbach. They really made the courses very relevant, very interesting to me. These were English courses. My last year, I think, we had a visiting professor from Hampton University. Don’t remember her name. But she taught African American literature, and of course that was probably one of my most favorite courses. But she was visiting. We had a relationship with Hampton. And I enjoyed those.

But other than that, I liked speech. I can’t remember who the speech teacher was. Because I remember being recorded. I had to go to… We had a place in Phi Beta Kappa Hall and we would record some of our speeches, and I thought that was very unique, and that eliminated my fear of somewhat like this being recorded. [Laughs.]

00:34:01          But there were some good courses. But other things, I didn’t like any science. I didn’t like health and PE. [Laughs.]

Karen:              I don’t know if I could say a favorite. I had two that had an impact. I was in chorus the first two years, and Dr. Fehr. And everybody called him Pappy Fehr, so when he said, oh, you can call me Pappy, I looked at him and I said, I don’t think so. But after the first semester I did because I was very comfortable. We did the same kind of music that I did in high school and junior high school. They even did Negro spirituals. The William & Mary chorus and the choir was very, very good, so I was very comfortable there.

00:34:54          And in the Science Department, in the Biology Department, I, you know, I liked most of my professors in the Science Department, but the department head, Dr. Byrd, at the time, he was department head, and actually I didn’t have him until my last semester. I ended up staying an extra semester because my grades in chemistry were so bad it pulled my GPA down. So I had Dr. Byrd for comparative anatomy. And then I talked to him about some of the problems I had had before, and I learned from him I should have spoken up before about the problems I was having in chemistry and with some professors in general. But he was very fair. He was very good. And he loved teaching. And it was contagious. So I enjoyed that.

00:36:02          Even the classes that I didn’t do well in, I learned at the time. I did learn something from them. So I think for us having the burden of representing your race made you leery of taking certain courses because you felt like you might not do well. And I learned you can learn even if you fail a course. And when I left here I was glad I went through the experiences that I did because it’s okay to fail as long as you learn something from it.

Lynn:               Yeah, I agree, too, because I failed a couple of classes, and one was Spanish. I just wasn’t good at Spanish. I’d had…I’d had three—

Janet:               She didn’t talk to me.

Lynn:               I had three years in high school, did very well. But, you know, you can be in the top 10% in your high school class—

Karen:              Right. And all of us were.

Lynn:               And all of us were. And you come here and you find out the—

Karen:              And everybody else was.

Lynn:               —the rigor of academics was just somewhat overwhelming. We struggled. I know I struggled academically. We spent all of our time in the library studying, trying to keep up. And…but that experience was good. We didn’t quit. And that was what we couldn’t do. We had…we struggled enough in order to get through the…to get the degrees, but… Because some African Americans that came after us, they quit. But we knew that the burden on us, we just couldn’t quit. But we struggled academically. It was a task.

Karen:              And personally, I refused to quit because I felt if we quit, then other people wouldn’t want to come, so I said no, I’ve got to put up with whatever I had to put up with.


Lynn:               Well, sure. And that would have sent the message to the general population.

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               So we…you just don’t quit. If you’re the first, you don’t quit.

Janet:               Well, for me there were two, ironically, English professors as well.

Lynn:               Really? [Laughs.]

Janet:               One was my—I believe he was my advisor. I talked to him so much I felt like he was. That was Dr. John Willis.

Lynn:               I don’t remember him.

Janet:               And the other one, oddly, I can’t remember his first name, but his name was Scholnick, was his last name.

Lynn:               Oh, yeah, I remember Scholnick.

Karen:              Oh, yeah, I remember.

Janet:               I used to babysit for him. But Dr. Willis, particularly, seemed to take an interest not in just my academics, but in me. And he was probably the only one who ever asked how are you doing, and how are things going, and can I do anything to help, or just general interest in how I was being treated or managing through the whole academic experience.

00:39:02          Professor Scholnick was just a nice man, and a very nice family. And I think of the two, Dr. Willis was probably the best teacher, but again, I had this rapport with Professor Scholnick that just made it easy to engage him, not only as a student, but on a friendly basis as well. And as they said, academically the first two years were hard. I remember the first semester getting a D in geology, and I was devastated. I had never in my life gotten a D in anything.

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               Right, yeah.

Janet:               And I remember crying, crying, crying.

Karen:              Mm-hmm. We all did.

Lynn:               We did.

Janet:               And so…but we had each other to kind of keep this, you know. And like they said, we couldn’t fail, we just couldn’t. And I certainly couldn’t because I still had that guidance counselor in the back of my mind telling me I was not going to be successful.

Karen:              Right.


Janet:               So after the first two years, it was like something clicked in me.

Karen:              Mm-hmm.

Janet:               And things got not easy, but easier. And, you know, the courses I seemed to really be able to understand how I needed to think to respond to things I was being tested on. It wasn’t a rote regurgitation of anything, it was a thought process, and having to give an intellectual analysis of something, which was not necessarily something we had learned coming up through our high schools. At least I didn’t, anyway. Even though I was in advanced placement classes, it still wasn’t as rigorous.

And then I don’t know whether it was my junior or senior year I actually made Dean’s List a couple of times, which, you know, it was in the newspapers at home and everything. And I was just so proud, and hoping my guidance counselor read that story. [Laughter.]

Kim:                This really answered my next question. I’ve talked to other alumni who have the same thought, you know, they did so well in high school and get here and realize that they’re not as smart as they were at their hometown high school compared to—


Lynn:               Right, yeah.

Karen:              Right.

Janet:               Right. Everyone else.

Kim:                And the challenge of trying to balance that workload and academic excellence combined with just life and extracurricular activities.

Lynn:               And you have to remember we all went to segregated high schools.

Janet:               Right.

Karen:              Mm-hmm.

Lynn:               I met my first white teacher here at William & Mary.

Karen:              So did I.

Janet:               Yeah.

Lynn:               And went to class with my first white students at William & Mary.

Kim:                So it was a social learning as well.

Lynn:               So it was, yeah, was socially and academics.

Janet:               Growing up, my brothers and I were…this is a great thing to say at the College of William & Mary. We were great Three Stooges fans. [Laughter.] And I remember once one thing that—I think it was Curly—and I often thought about it because we were, you know, we were upper crust, you know, top of the class in high school, but not so much here.

00:41:58          And they had a saying that said “we were bred in Old Kentucky, but we’re just a crumb here.” And that’s how it felt to me. You know, I was, you know, I was a big cheese in high school.

Karen:              Right, in your high school.

Janet:               But I wasn’t here, so that took some adjustment.

Karen:              But, you know, you asked about professors. But there were other people that made it easier for you on campus as well.

Lynn:               Right.

Karen:              The maids that cleaned our room were encouragers for us, you know. They didn’t have to make our beds, but they did for us. And the reference librarian, I can’t remember her name, but I know when I first got my books, and one book hadn’t come in the book store, so I went to the library and I introduced myself to the reference librarian. I gave her my book list.

00:42:58          And she asked had I written in any of my books. And I said, well, I think one I had, the rest I hadn’t. And she said good, and don’t ever write your name in your books. Bring them to me and if I don’t have them already—because I think they were required to keep two copies of every book that was on the list—she said I’ll have your books for you. You take your receipt back, get your money. And I did that every semester. Every semester—

Lynn:               You resold your books.

Karen:              —she made sure I had my books, so I had money for all through.

Janet:               That was a well kept secret. [Laughs.]

Lynn:               Yeah, I never heard of that.

Karen:              Oh, yes. I wasn’t…no, because there were only two—

Lynn:               I never returned my books.

Karen:              —two copies of the book, and I didn’t want anybody else to get the book before I did. And the secretaries in the Biology Department, you know, they made me their little mascot, so they kind of looked out for me, and had lunch, you know, and chips and things like that.

00:44:00          So those things were encouraging when you were walking around like this most of the time. It helped.

Kim:                So what are your memories of President Davis Paschall?

Lynn:               I don’t have much memory of him. I don’t think I even—

Janet:               He totally ignored us.

Lynn:               Yeah. I don’t even…we even had a conversation with him.

Karen:              Well, I have one memory, and that was during the very first week, freshman orientation. And I think we had to—I had to go audition for chorus. You know, you had to audition for your extracurricular. And I was coming back and I saw Dr. Paschall, and it was a woman with him. I don’t know who she was. But I was close enough to them that I could hear their conversation. And she was saying that’s not—she—that’s one of the three. They’ll never make it.

00:44:59          I overheard that conversation. And, I mean, I was so angry that I walked up and kind of made her stop because I walked on her heel, pulled her shoe off so she had to stop, and I said, not only will I make it, I will make sure that next year there’s going to be even more students that look like me here. And Dr. Paschall didn’t say anything, he just turned beet red, and I just walked off. So that was another reason I couldn’t quit because I had decided, by the end of the semester, I was transferring out of here. But that’s the only experience that I have.

Kim:                What about your memories of Dean of Women Birdena Donaldson?

Karen:              I’ve got two. [Laughs.]

Janet:               I have one.


Lynn:               I don’t have any. The only time I remember going to Dean Donaldson’s office was during our senior year, and we had made a decision to move off campus, and we had to let her know. And so I think we had a meeting with her in the office.

Janet:               I don’t remember the meeting.

Lynn:               Well, I remember going to her office, yeah. And that was the only interaction I really had with Dean Donaldson.

Karen:              I think I spent that summer away and you guys got the apartment. I just had to—

Janet:               Yeah.

Lynn:               Mm-hmm.

Karen:              —pay my part of the bill. But I had my two experiences with her, you know, when I wore the shorts.

Lynn:               About the dress code.

Karen:              But she, you know, she kind of snickered, you know you have a dress code, blah-blah-blah, but other than that she was fine.

Janet:               I do remember one, and I can’t believe the two of you don’t remember this one. We were walking across campus going to the deli, one of the delis over on Scotland Street, and we walked past one of the men’s dorms that was very close to Scotland Street, and someone threw water out the window on us. And Dean Donaldson was—


Karen:              Yeah, I remember because my hair got wet.

Janet:               Yeah, was walking behind us. And we were so furious.

Karen:              I ran upstairs—

Janet:               And so we were going back to our dorm to get knives to come back and find out who it was.

Karen:              While you were doing that, I actually ran upstairs.

Janet:               And she saw that—

Karen:              And grabbed somebody.

Janet:               —but she never said anything about it, never addressed it, even though she witnessed it. And so that was…anyway, I guess sort of telling how she… Maybe she wouldn’t have done it for anyone walking across campus, I don’t know, but I just felt like no matter who it had been, if she had seen that, some action should have been taken. Or at least asked us something about it, but we were never asked anything.

Karen:              I was so busy being hotheaded, I ran up there and grabbed the first person I saw, and it was a guy coming out of the shower, so when I knocked him on the floor and then his towel fell off, I said, ooh, I don’t think I should have done that, so I just ran back down the steps and went to the dorm. I really don’t remember her being—

Lynn:               I don’t remember. I remember you…us saying something about that incident, but I don’t remember her being…witnessing it.

Kim:                You mentioned early on Dean Lambert. Did you have any interaction with him after freshman orientation?

Janet:               I don’t remember.

Karen:              No, just when we went to—

Lynn:               I don’t remember Dean Lambert.

Karen:              —different… I remember what he said. I remember he said if you graduate from William & Mary, and you don’t know how to treat people, don’t tell people that you attended here. I do remember that. So I was impressed with what he said.

But as far as having any interaction, he was…I didn’t, except when we went to Charter Day and all that kind of stuff he was always the speaker, and he was, I thought, a good motivational speaker. But I just remember that at freshman orientation, and I was impressed with him after that, even though I never had any interactions.


Kim:                Or even Sam Sadler? Want to share any thoughts about Sam?

Lynn:               Sam Sadler was with us the whole time. [Laughs.]

Karen:              Right. I remember because he was financial aid.

Lynn:               Yeah.

Karen:              And…

Lynn:               But he was always the consistent factor in all that we did here. And even after we graduated and would come back for events, Sam Sadler was still here, so…

Karen:              And he always remembered.

Lynn:               Yeah, he always remembered us, and…. And a great guy. That’s all I can remember.

Karen:              And when I had to, like I said, I had to stay an extra semester, so I went stomping in the financial aid office, and he said register for your class, when you come back, just sign the papers, I got you. And that was him.


Janet:               I remember when we…I didn’t know this until we came back in 2011 for our 40th reunion, and when we were recognized by the Hulon Willis Association for our being pioneering, I guess, the effort, but Sam was there, and it was really good to see him. But apparently when we came as students, he was the one given the job of taking care of us, I guess. And he was genuine about it. It wasn’t like he was doing something he didn’t want to do. I never felt that way. He seemed to be genuinely caring about us. But he admitted then that—

Karen:              He didn’t know how.

Janet:               —he didn’t know what to do either. We didn’t know what to expect and he didn’t know what to do with us, so he just kind of did what he thought was the right thing and hoping that it was the right thing. And he said it never occurred to him…because he never really sat down with us to…


Karen:              Talk to us.

Lynn:               To talk to us.

Janet:               To talk to us and ask how are things, or things that could be done to make things better for us, or easier, did we need something. He didn’t do that, not because he was uncaring, he just didn’t know—he was young, too.

Lynn:               Right.

Karen:              Yeah.

Janet:               We were young and he was brand new, and so we were all kind of muddling through together. But he, over time, he was…I think if we had needed to go to him, he would have been there for us.

Lynn:               He would have been there.

Janet:               He was just a genuinely good person.

Lynn:               Mm-hmm. Yeah, always very supportive. When the Black Student Organization was organized, I think he was very supportive with that. And I remember when I was invited to come back to speak at the 30th anniversary of the Black Student Organization, Sadler was there supporting with Dean Hardy and with Sean Glover. And with the Hulon Willis organization he was very supportive, so he was always there. Whatever we did and whatever events we had, Dean Sadler was there.


Janet:               He would struggle with me through…I wanted to be a cheerleader. [Laughter.]  

Karen:              Oh, no. No, let’s not talk about it. That was horrible.

Janet:               He was this…the faculty advisor for the cheerleading squad. And so everyone else who went out for cheerleading—

Karen:              That was so embarrassing.

Janet:               —were cheerleaders, but I had never been, but I’m like, that’s what I want to do. And so I went through the rigorous movements of being a cheerleader and I couldn’t walk the next day. But he was still supportive. [Laughter.]  

Karen:              That was so embarrassing. When we were getting ready—when the school was getting ready for the tricentennial he came to the Hampton Roads area, so I had worked with Dean Sadler then. So he was always supportive through the years.

Kim:                So you mentioned homecoming weekend in 2011 when the three of you were recognized. Can you go into detail about what that was like? Was it something you expected? How were you notified?


Lynn:               I don’t know. How were we notified? I think…

Janet:               I got a phone call from Earl Granger.

Lynn:               Earl Granger had found Janet. See, we had…I had been here several times before for the BSO anniversary. The Hulon Willis, I was part of the initial group to organize the Hulon Willis. And I had taken some graduate courses in the School of Ed. Because while I was here with Hulon Willis, I found out, well, there’s some nice graduate courses, I can take those. So I’d been on the campus for several years.

And Karen had moved from Portsmouth. She lived in several other places, so we had lost connection. But I hadn’t seen Janet in about 30, maybe 40 years. And it was Earl Granger—I don’t know what his role is here now, in development, I don’t know.

00:54:01          Said that, well, we found Janet and got us together and said that we would like for you to come to campus so that we can recognize your involvement as pioneers at the College of William & Mary. And it was a wonderful experience.

Karen:              I was out of town at the time. I got the email on my Blackberry. But when I saw Janet was coming, and I hadn’t seen her in so many years, I rearranged my flights, because I wasn’t supposed to be back in town, so I came back for that.

But I think I was overwhelmed. A couple of months before that my mom had passed, and she would have loved to have been at that event. But when I saw all the students that came back for homecoming that looked like me, and especially remembering what I had said with Dr. Paschall, it was…I couldn’t even speak. I think I cried for a week.


Janet:               Well, honestly, it was great for me being reconnected. I traveled around. I lived overseas for some time and lost track of where they were. But like Karen and Lynn, seeing the large number of students—and granted, taken as a whole, it’s still a small number—

Karen:              But for us…

Janet:               But for us, we were three, and it was a room full. I mean, I was amazed that that many people even showed up. I had thought—because my family had asked me, well, is this something we should even go to? I said no, I think it’s just a little meeting, and they’ll say how nice having you back, and that was it. But there was a whole event. And the president was there—the president of the college was there, and Sam was there. And just looking around the room, I mean, there was standing room.

Karen:              Right.


Janet:               And it was just a tremendously wonderful experience that things had changed quite a bit since we were here. And I just wouldn’t have missed that for anything.

Karen:              Right.

Janet:               And then, you know, obviously being reconnected with my…who had been my very best friends and soul mates. [Laughs.] And confidantes for four years, it was really wonderful to come back.

Karen:              And then I found out I had been going to meetings in D.C. in the same building Janet was working in—

Janet:               And we didn’t even know it.

Karen:              —and had no idea.

Kim:                The poignant scene from “When Harry Met Sally.”

Janet:               Yeah.

Karen:              Mm-hmm.

Kim:                So you mentioned the BSO, just the Black Student Organization, and it formed in 1970. So from ’67 to 1970, there were more. The numbers were still low, of course—

Lynn:               Yeah, the numbers increased, yeah.

Kim:                —but there started to be an increase in numbers of African American students, male and female. So were you part of the forming of the BSO?


Janet:               Yeah.

Karen:              Yes, we were charter members.

Lynn:               Yes, we were. Yeah, we were the charter members. The president was…

Karen:              Warren Buck.

Lynn:               Okay, Warren Buck. He was a graduate student here when we were here. And as more students were coming, we just felt the need to be very supportive of African American students who were coming to this campus, to get to know one another, and just to share our experiences, make them feel more comfortable. And that’s why we just wanted to have this. This organization probably started more as a social organization, you know. Let’s get to know one another and let’s support one another as we have these experiences here on the campus.

Karen:              And we wanted to keep people here. I mean, the number of students were increasing, but then the next semester—

Lynn:               Right, some were leaving, yeah.

Karen:              —they transferred out, so we wanted to retain. We were worried about retention as well as increasing the number.


Janet:               And it was also a place we could go and really let our hair down.

Karen:              Right.

Janet:               And not having to…

Karen:              Be judged for what you were saying.

Janet:               Be judged for what you say or do. We weren’t on display. No one was looking for us to slip up somehow or do something that was not acceptable. So it was, like she said, it was primarily a social thing at first, and so it was fun to just kind of hang out in an environment that we were more familiar with, with people and customs and cultural things that we would often have to explain to our roommates—I mean, our colleagues on the floor in the dorm, the slang that we would use, whatever.

They’d say, what does that mean? And we’d tell them, and so…but we didn’t have to do that there. It was just kind of free flowing. So it was nice just to have a place to kind of relax and let your hair down.


Karen:              And if someone said something that you found offensive, you didn’t have to explain it. And it would, you know, if I talked about it to Lynn or Janet, I didn’t have to explain why I found that offensive, you know, you knew. If you heard it, it would have been offensive to you, too. Where other people didn’t…well, why are you getting all upset about that? It didn’t mean that. Oh yes, it did.

Kim:                In November, 2012 a plaque honoring the three of you was unveiled, and it’s located in the basement of Jefferson Hall where you lived your freshman year. And it wasn’t until right before this interview started that I learned you actually were not in attendance at its unveiling and you have not seen it, which you will later this morning. And I think since then the plaque has been moved to the lobby of the building, if I understand correctly.

Janet:               Well, we didn’t know that, either.

Lynn:               But see, we didn’t know that.

Kim:                So now that I know you actually haven’t seen it yet, when did you learn that this was going to happen? Was it after the plaque had already been up?


Lynn:               Oh, no, we knew about it. I think Sean Glover—

Karen:              They said something when they…

Janet:               At the anniversary.

Lynn:               Yeah.

Karen:              When they presented it, but they said they were going to do an unveiling, but we were never notified that—

Janet:               Yeah.

Karen:              —it actually occurred.

Lynn:               Or we were notified, we just weren’t available. I don’t even remember.

Janet:               We weren’t notified.

Karen:              I don’t remember being notified.

Kim:                So how does it make you feel to know that you are, as long as Jefferson Hall, at least, is standing, a, you know, a permanent, your names are permanently attached, not just in the minds and words of people, but a physical representation on this campus, how does that…?

Lynn:               Of course it’s an honor. It’s an honor—

Karen:              It is.

Lynn:               —for me that—

Karen:              It’s an honor and…

Lynn:               —that this recognition has been given to us. You have to remember that we really… You know, I tell people—

Karen:              We had no clue—

Lynn:               —that we really didn’t do anything. We came to school—

Karen:              Right. Had no clue that…

Lynn:               —we just came to school. [Laughs.]

Karen:              …that we were doing…we didn’t…

Lynn:               Right.

Karen:              We didn’t come to integrate the school. We had no clue that there weren’t other residential students here. No clue.


Lynn:               So it is an honor to be recognized in that way.

Janet:               It was all purely selfish to start out with: we needed education, we needed money, and this was where both were.

Lynn:               It’s where we…

Karen:              They offered it. I think it’s fitting that it’s Jefferson Hall.

Janet:               Yeah.

Karen:              I know he’s turning over in his grave. [Laughs.]

Janet:               Or looking for more—

Lynn:               And I don’t—look, I remember—

Janet:               —or looking for more relatives.

Lynn:               Yeah. And I remember…I remember—this is not the original Jefferson Hall.

Karen:              Right.

Lynn:               Remember Jefferson Hall burned some time ago.

Janet:               Burned. Yeah, it did.

Lynn:               You know, the Jefferson Hall that we knew. Now, I have never been in this Jefferson Hall.

Karen:              Right. I was in New York when it burned.

Lynn:               Really?

Karen:              I cried though, because we had fun in Jefferson.

Lynn:               Yeah.

Karen:              That was the place to be.

Kim:                Well, how did attending William & Mary influence your life?

Lynn:               Well, I think the prestige of the college cannot be refuted, so when you have a degree from the College of William & Mary you really have an achievement. And so when we go home with our degrees and we tell people we graduated from William & Mary, of course, you know, it’s…

Karen:              Really?


Lynn:               Yeah, it’s very prestigious. Because of the reputation of the college.

Karen:              Right. And it, you know, it opened doors, especially when people weren’t hiring. They couldn’t really look at my name and figure out exactly who I was. And if you weren’t from the area, you definitely didn’t recognize the high schools, but you recognized the college. And I went to Old Dominion for graduate school, so they had no clue of who or what I was until I showed up for an interview and surprised quite a few people.

Janet:               And likewise for me. I worked for the federal government for 35 years, and the application processes for jobs, employers, prospective employers would have resumes that they—and I know what the resumes look like because eventually I was one of those people reviewing resumes. And when you have everyone who appears to be equally qualified as far as the work they’ve done, you have to find discriminating factors, and you look at the schools.

01:03:01          And I know that for me, that not only who my competition had ever been for any jobs that I had, but I’m certain that the fact that I had a bachelor’s and a master’s from William & Mary probably made a big difference in the selection process when they need to have a fine determining factor as to who would be selected for the job.

Kim:                In 2017 William & Mary will commemorate the 50th anniversary of your being the first African American women in residence, and in 2018 we will commemorate 100 years of coeducation. So what are your thoughts about the value and contributions of both women in general, but also African American women at William & Mary?

Lynn:               Well, I just frankly believe that diversity just strengthens everybody. Gender diversity, ethnicity, it just strengthens the culture, it strengthens the community.

01:04:02          And so I’m glad that the college is going in this direction, not only for women in general, but for African American women, who have made lots of strides here in the college. The positions that they hold here now I never would have thought that they would hold, especially African American women. When Dean Hardy came, I was very impressed. Carroll Hardy came as the dean of diversity or multicultural. And she was hired to not only support African American students who were here, but to help with the retention. I think retention was a problem.

Karen:              Mm-hmm, retention.

Lynn:               Yeah. And that the college has maintained its commitment to not only to recruit, to attract, but to retain African American students I think says a lot about the college, the goals of the school, this institution.

01:05:00          So to celebrate women in general is just what we have to do in the broader culture. Women make a difference.

Karen:              Right. Women are half of the world’s population, so it’s long overdue. I’m glad. Even though the college, being so old, didn’t allow women in until, what, 19—

Janet:               1918.

Karen:              —1918.

Lynn:               1918.

Karen:              I look at places like Yale, it was 1969 before they allowed women in, so… I’m glad that this is occurring. I like to focus on what we have in common rather than our differences. And I say that—I’m working for the federal government, too, and part of what I do, I travel. You know, the Navy has research centers, hospitals worldwide.

01:06:01          So sometimes when you travel overseas, you know, you hear all the different languages spoken, but as soon as you hear someone that speaks your language, and then you can pick up on accents, ooh, I know exactly where they’re from, you know, you immediately gravitate to these people. Even though you don’t look alike, you know, sometimes they’re male, sometimes they’re female, it’s like, oh, this is what you have in common. And then you just have this long conversation. And I think that’s what we need to get from all of this.

Janet:               Well, I think that by diversifying not only with just women and African American women, it has helped to eliminate the fear of the unknown. You don’t know what people can bring, or you think they aren’t going to bring anything.

01:06:55          It’s refreshing that the numbers have increased so that not only can we bring gender differences, but we can bring professional expertise in many areas across the curriculum, whether it’s subject matter, or whether it’s administratively, whatever. And it can only improve as we continue to expand that. So I’m glad that from an ethnic…ethnicity we were sort of trailblazers. But again, we didn’t know we were. And that has grown. But I’m glad that women in general are being embraced as part of the overall experience.

Kim:                Any last words or last thoughts?

Lynn:               Well, I really enjoyed my experience at William & Mary, and I enjoyed it so much—I’m a secondary principal. I recommended several students to this institution. They have so many choices.

01:08:00          Especially since I love HBCUs, and I always like to strengthen HBCUs by recommending some of my students. But last year a student I had recommended to William & Mary graduated with his math degree, and he invited me to the Donning of the Kente ceremony. And he had really loved his experience here. And so as a secondary school principal, I just want to let students know of the quality of education that they will get here at William & Mary. And I’m glad that some have taken my advice and have attended.

Karen:              The quality and affordability, you know. It’s still considered the Harvard of the South. You know, at a state school you get this quality education. And it has continued for centuries.


Janet:               For me, I was honored to have been able to attend the college, not only for its historical significance, but I never imagined being in a small town in rural Virginia, that one, I’d ever get to college, because no one in my family had, and two, be able to come to a school like William & Mary.

And then 40 years after the fact realize what impact my coming had is amazing to me because I just never thought…I never thought, one, that anyone even knew that I came or cared that I came until 2011 because… And many times I wanted to come back to homecoming, but I didn’t know where Karen and Lynn were, and I really didn’t know anybody.

Karen:              And so we didn’t feel any reason to come back.


Janet:               And so we didn’t…I didn’t. So all of this is just…I don’t…I hate to hear people say everything’s amazing to me, but it is, it’s amazing.

Karen:              It really is. And even though we supported it—

Lynn:               Well, why is this happening?

Karen:              —and we’d send money.

Janet:               Right.

Karen:              But you still didn’t feel like, hey, it mattered that we attended.

Janet:               And the fact that we’re here being interviewed and, you know, we’re interviewed all sorts of places for me is, again, is just an amazing thing to happen to me. I’m always outspoken and always out there saying things I shouldn’t. [Laughter.] And I often get recognized for the wrong reasons. So it’s really nice to be recognized for something that’s good and to be told that it really made a difference, because at the time we didn’t know it.

Lynn:               We didn’t know.

Janet:               We didn’t know that it did.


Kim:                Thank you very much. And one follow-up question, if you don’t mind. So you may know that we’re in the middle of a campaign, and the campaign is called For the Bold, so when we have opportunities to speak with several people across campus and our alumni, we have a tendency to ask them what their bold moment is. So I was wondering if you might be able to reflect on what your bold moment is. And that could be within your career or it could also be while you were here at William & Mary.

Lynn:               You know, I was talking to Bonnie Winston yesterday, and she pretty much asked the same question. What I do remember—and I don’t know if I’ve even expressed this to Karen or Janet—but I was walking across campus and somebody asked me, you work here? Some directions. One of the things I realized then, the only people, African Americans that many who lived on this campus or even worked on this campus saw were housekeepers, food service workers, and maintenance people.

01:12:07          And so they automatically assumed that I was either a housekeeper, someone in food service, or somebody in maintenance. And I made it…I was determined after that to be sure that I was viewed as a scholar, and from that point on I started carrying books. I carried books everywhere, even when I got on the bus to go into town, go visit the visitors center in Colonial Williamsburg, I had a book.  

I had something either with William & Mary monogram on it, a notebook or something so that people would not automatically assume that I was a housekeeper or maintenance worker or food service personnel. Nothing wrong with that. They were our great allies here. But they needed to see another face, that an African American could be a scholar on this campus. So that’s my bold moment.


Karen:              I think I’ll see what she says before…

Janet:               Well, I guess mine is something I…it was an academic experience that I had. And I mentioned the D in geology that I had, how devastated I was, and how hard the first two years was. I remember my, I believe it was my junior year I took philosophy as an elective.

Lynn:               [Laughs.] Really?

Janet:               You know, I have lots of opinions, but I don’t know if you’d call it philosophy.

Lynn:               I don’t think I ever took philosophy.

Janet:               But anyway, I remember that philosophy and I just really got along. And I remember having one exam in philosophy, and I actually got an A plus. And I just could not believe that the struggles I had the first two years—and again, I’m remembering that guidance counselor. [Laughs.]

01:14:00          She damaged me for life. To get an A plus at a place like William & Mary in something like philosophy, I’m thinking, you know, maybe this stuff is really starting to make sense to me, I’m really getting it. And for me that was not a bold moment for the greater community, but for me it certainly was.

Kim:                Karen?

Karen:              I guess I had a few negative experiences. And I really don’t want to dwell on those, I really don’t. So I’ll talk about the academic. When I got my first A was in my major, finally, cytogenetics, you know.

Lynn:               Wow.

Karen:              And, you know, for someone with a—we didn’t have all of those kind of—

Lynn:               High level science classes, yeah.

Karen:              You know, high level science classes in high school, and we didn’t have all the equipment. And for me to get an A in cytogenetics, it was like this is…that was amazing for me.

01:15:02          Because like I said, I had struggled, and most of my experiences in the Chemistry Department were negative. You know, what she was saying, you know, like they’d ask me coming in the building where is the Comet, where is the mop, and saying very, very negative things, even stopping me from trying to enter the building, so… But I never experienced that in the Biology Department. It was just chemistry for me.

01:15:35          [End of recording.]


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