Justin Reid, W&M Class of 2009
Justin Reid arrived at William & Mary in 2005. During his time at William & Mary he participated in the African Cultural Society, was a President’s Aide, served as president of the W&M Chapter of the NAACP, served as a Resident Assistant and an Admission Tour Guide, and helped to establish the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Reid received a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies and graduated in 2009. He went on to work extensively in the nonprofit sector, working at Colonial Williamsburg, managing a grant project for the U.S. Department of Education, and working as the first associate director for Museum Operations at the Moton Museum. He currently works for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities as director of African American programs.
In his interview, Reid expresses that William & Mary had actually not been his first choice of college but that President Gene Nichol’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity was “music to his ears.” Thus, he points to Nichol’s resignation as a defining moment of his experience at W&M. Reid recalls numerous other individuals whom positively impacted his time as a student and reflects fondly on major moments, such as founding Omega Psi Phi on campus. Reid’s professional experience and involvement in the Hulon Willis Association have kept him in close proximity to W&M since his graduation. The interview closes with Reid discussing the changes he would like to see occur at the school, including increasing faculty diversity and efforts to make a W&M education more affordable.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Justin Reid
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Date: February 16, 2018 Duration: 02:07:23
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt, the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 2:00 p.m. on February 16, 2018. I’m sitting in the Alumni House with Justin Reid. So if you could start, could you tell me the date and place of your birth and where you grew up?
Justin: Okay. I was born on October 24, 1987 in Richmond, Virginia, but I was raised about an hour outside of the city in a small town called Farmville.
Carmen: Okay, great. And what years did you attend William & Mary?
Justin: I was here from 2005 to 2009.
Carmen: Okay, great. And before we jump into your time at William & Mary, can you tell me a little bit about the place you were raised and about your family?
Justin: Sure. My family has been in South Central Virginia for multiple generations, I mean, as far back as we can trace. Buckingham County, Prince Edward County and Cumberland County are the three counties that surround Farmville, and I grew up right outside the town limits, about two miles, actually, from where my dad had been born.
00:01:07 His family’s farm was two miles down the road from where I grew up. Let’s see. It was a small town. I had a very, like kind of ideal childhood, I mean, as far as growing up in the country goes. I would run around my grandmother’s and my grandfather’s old farm, and we were surrounded by family.
The original tract of land was my great-grandparents’ farm, and then they carved it up and distributed the tracts to their grandchildren, and so my grandfather had a tract of land, but then surrounding his tract was land owned by his siblings, and so I grew up around great-aunts and their children and grandchildren, and my dad’s first cousins are more like aunts and uncles to me, and their kids were all really close—we’re all really close with each other.
00:02:00 And the same thing happened for my grandmother’s side, too, although that farm was a few miles away from my grandfather’s farm, near the church that I attended, and so kind of the same situation on my grandmother’s side. Where she grew up there were tracts of land that her siblings still lived on and, you know, just kind of went back from village to village, I guess you could say. So that was my childhood. My parents commuted to Richmond every day, so I would spend a lot of time with my grandparents before school and after school.
Carmen: How long was that trip in for them?
Justin: It was an hour, so hour to Richmond, hour back every day. So I would get dropped off with my grandparents, I don’t know, I don’t know what time the school buses came. Maybe like 6:00 or so I would get dropped off at my grandparents’ house, and my parents would come home maybe around like 7:00 or 8:00-ish and then I’d head to my house.
Carmen: Wow. Every day.
Justin: Every day.
Carmen: Oh, my goodness. What did they do in the city?
Justin: They both actually worked for insurance firms. Mom was health insurance. My dad was like property, I guess. Yeah, property insurance. Those are the only two types that they…so yeah, so property insurance and health insurance in Richmond.
Carmen: And are you an only child?
Justin: I’m not. I’m the youngest of three. I am the only boy. And there’s a pretty significant gap between me and my older sisters. They’re ten and 12 years older than me.
Carmen: Wow. And do they still live in the area?
Justin: No. They’re both in North Carolina. I’m the only one still in Virginia.
Carmen: Okay. Well, great. Thanks for going into all of that with me.
Carmen: So where did you attend school when you were growing up, elementary and high school?
Justin: So it’s interesting. It’s seldom the case, but I attended the same school system that my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, I mean, because small town, rural Virginia.
00:03:55 I attended Cumberland County Public Schools K through 12. My junior and senior year of high school I also attended a half day magnet school that was located in downtown Farmville at Longwood University, the governor’s school of the South Side of Virginia. And so I would go there from early in the morning till kind of after lunch and then go back to my home high school and finish out the day at my home high school.
Carmen: And when did you start thinking about college? Like when did that start getting on your radar?
Justin: See, when did I start thinking about college? I probably started thinking about college in elementary school because my older siblings, like watching them go off to school. I think it might have been in kindergarten or first grade when my oldest sister graduated high school and went to college, so I think from an early age it was already kind of embedded in me that I would attend college.
00:04:58 I didn’t know where I would go. Didn’t know I would come to William & Mary. William & Mary wasn’t really on my radar for most of my childhood. But I knew it was something I would do. Both my parents had attended college, and one of my great-grandparents, and even one of my great-great-grandparents who had been born a slave had attended seminary in Lynchburg. He was a Baptist minister, so a long history there.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. So you said William & Mary wasn’t on your radar, so how did you find yourself at William & Mary?
Justin: Yeah. I don’t think William & Mary was on a lot of kids’ radar where I grew up, again, South Side Virginia, South Central, depending on who you ask. I think the college tended to, I guess, more heavily recruit in the population centers, and so you didn’t see a lot of William & Mary alumni in the Farmville area. And I feel like it was also kind of Hokie country, like Virginia Tech country where I grew up.
00:05:57 You had a strong extension program with 4H, and them being connected to Virginia Tech, and that that was kind of the… I mean, if you didn’t go to Longwood, which is in Farmville, I think a lot of people were drawn or at least supported Virginia Tech.
My senior year I was selected by my high school guidance counselor to attend the William & Mary leadership program. I remember an award that they gave to one Virginia senior—I think it was a senior or junior—but it was an award they gave to one Virginia senior every year, and so each high school in Virginia got to send one student to William & Mary for like a couple of days.
You spent the night in like a conference type situation, and you shadowed a college student. And that’s how William & Mary kind of registered in my mind mentally. I spent the night here, hung out, did the Busch Gardens thing, but I think the typical thing they do for high school students that are visiting.
00:06:58 And I came here and decided that I wasn’t going to come here, actually, after my experience visiting. I thought it was a beautiful place, but I feel like even though I didn’t have the language at the time, I was keenly aware of the lack of diversity, and definitely felt…I felt a little out of place. I mean, that could have been because of race, but I think it probably had more so to do with the fact that I had come from a rural community.
And I think you can’t miss the wealth and prestige that this place kind of encompasses, so when I did visit, even though I had a pretty decent time here, I had pretty much filed it away in the back of my mind and said, you know, this wasn’t the school for me and wasn’t the right fit. But I did end up applying, obviously.
Carmen: How did you make that decision? How did it move forward to No. 1?
Justin: See, how did William & Mary become No. 1? I don’t know if it ever became No. 1. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s fine, too.
Justin: So all right, I’ll say this. I was very meticulous when it came to my college search process. And it wasn’t because I had overbearing parents. When I look back in hindsight, my parents were very hands off when I was applying to schools. But I had my accordion folders and tabs and everything kind of laid out and organized.
And when I was researching Virginia colleges, I think I was looking up stats, and I pretty much determined that if I were to go to an in state school it would be William & Mary. I had made that decision in my mind just based on the quality of education I knew they would afford me. Both of my older siblings went to Virginia Tech, and I did apply there. But I knew I wanted a smaller school. And growing up in a Hokie family, UVA was not an option. I didn’t even apply to UVA.
Justin: But I’ll say my No. 1 choice was Georgetown. I think because I had grown up in a small town, rural community, you have to go to the city, like you have to study international relations. I have to do it in D.C. And I have to get out of Virginia, even though D.C. is right there. But I think that’s where my mind was mentally, like just getting to a city, and studying the world, and trying to gain the experiences that I felt like I hadn’t been exposed to in Farmville.
But it came down to finances. William & Mary was much more affordable than Georgetown. They offered me a pretty significant scholarship to come here. And there was a connection here with Mel Ely, who’s in the history department. Around the time that I was applying to colleges he had just written a book called “Israel on the Appomattox,” and the story takes place in Farmville.
00:09:55 It’s about a free black community that was formed early 19th century. Richard Randolph, who was a first cousin of Thomas Jefferson, had left a stipulation in his will that all the men and women and children he had enslaved would be free upon his death. And Mel Ely was writing about this story, this, I think, very kind of unknown story in my hometown. And I felt like I may have had a family connection to that history, and so I reached out to him, and we had this email exchange.
And I didn’t know—so he’s a Bancroft award winning historian, which, you know, is a big deal. Sixteen-year-old Justin had no idea how big of a deal he was. So here I was, like found his email on the William & Mary website, you know, high school senior messaging him. And he wrote back pretty quickly. And it was like a really meaty response, too. I could tell he was seriously considering his response and taking the time to address my questions.
00:10:57 And that did leave a pretty meaningful impression. Like here I was a high school student reaching out to this professor here and him taking the time to respond. And we kept up a dialogue throughout my application process. And whenever I got a acceptance somewhere else I’d tell him and ask his opinion. And ultimately he helped persuade me to come to William & Mary as well.
Carmen: That’s excellent. Did you ever take a course with him when you were here?
Justin: No, I didn’t. I was mad about that, too, because I think he was on sabbatical basically the entire time I was here, so I didn’t get a chance to take his course. But Jody Allen, who also teaches here, she got her Ph.D. at William & Mary, and Mel Ely was her dissertation advisor, so I feel like indirectly I kind of, you know.
Carmen: Sure, yeah.
Justin: The fact that he had mentored her and then she became one of my favorite professors and mentors, you know.
Carmen: That counts.
Justin: I think so.
Carmen: That definitely counts.
Justin: You know, I think there’s a connection there, yeah.
Carmen: Yeah. So you kind of already had your mind before you even went to college on this idea of international relations and this global perspective, it sounds like. So what did you choose to study then when you came here?
Justin: I came in as an international relations major. I was pretty hyper focused on that and that that would be my degree. I kind of had it mapped out. You know, I would go to William & Mary undergrad, I would major in IR, I would go to Georgetown for grad school, join the foreign service, live abroad. Like that was the roadmap that I had laid out, and so William & Mary was kind of a pit stop towards all those other things.
But the summer before my freshman year I participated in the PLUS program, Preparing for Life as a University Student. It’s a bridge program for students who come from kind of underrepresented backgrounds or underrepresented communities, or who are first to come students.
00:13:00 So when I participated it was a…I want to say maybe a five week program. It was long enough to the point that we were able to take a course during the summer, so I guess like maybe half of the summer, a semester. And the course I ended up being signed up for was an American studies course called Harlem on the Seine that looked at the francophone black experience around the world. And I did really well in that class.
We were reading James Baldwin and Frantz Fanon and all these other brilliant black global literary minds. And I took that course in American studies, and I think that really planted a seed, because even though I was focused on international relations throughout my entire college experience, I was taking U.S. history classes, I was taking American studies courses.
00:14:03 And ultimately I changed my major to American studies. I actually changed it my senior year. And the American studies professor, Professor Weiss—I’m blanking on her first name—Professor Weiss had worked it so that I could go back and take the prereqs because I had already done upper level coursework, and so American studies was my official degree, and Africana studies. I stayed with global studies at the time, which today is now Africana studies.
Justin: That’s probably a lot more than you needed.
Carmen: No, that’s excellent. That whole trajectory is fascinating.
Justin: Yeah. It was a very crooked path towards American studies. I studied abroad in France the summer after my freshman year, which was an incredible experience. I was a couple of miles from the Mediterranean in an 18th century renovated home in the French wine country. And my host family was incredible.
00:15:05 And then summer after my junior year I had the opportunity to participate in William & Mary’s South Africa study abroad program, and that was the first time William & Mary offered its own study abroad program in an African country. And I studied at Cape Town, at the University of Cape Town.
And after I came back from South Africa I pretty much made the decision that I would switch my major from IR. I had been conflicted for a little while, but while I was in South Africa I felt like I had felt so many or seen so many different parallels between the history and culture there and the things that I had experienced or knew from my hometown and its history and things I experienced here I almost felt guilty after leaving South Africa.
00:15:57 Here I was devoting so much energy towards IR. I made the decision that I could make myself…I could be of best use kind of directing my energy domestically, inwardly. So I decided to switch.
Carmen: That’s great. It seems like you took the things and the impact you wanted to have through IR and yeah, were able to find…
Justin: Yeah. And I’m…in hindsight I’m really glad I didn’t have kind of a straight trajectory because it did allow me to experience so much. I mean, you know, it compelled me to go abroad, and study abroad, and to have these experiences. I had a chance to go to Tanzania, spend two winter breaks in Tanzania. It exposed me to students who I may not have befriended had I not been a part of kind of the international relations student community here.
00:16:54 And so to this day a lot of my friends are African students, or African first generation—second generation, I should say. I was going to say African American, but then that gets confused, and so they’re like African in the truer sense of the word. The African Cultural Society, early on in my college career, definitely had a very formative impact on my experience at William & Mary.
Carmen: Sure. I would love to hear more about that.
Justin: You know, again, just having this plan mapped out in my mind, I said, well, you know, I should become a part of the African Cultural Society, even though I’m a black American descended from enslaved Africans. I still wanted to be a part of ACS. And it’s interesting, I’ve experienced parallels even within ACS, hearing some of their experiences, and the way I grew up in rural Virginia, and the way my family relied on our extended kinship network, and the way my family had set up my community growing up.
00:18:03 There were parallels from my experience growing up in rural Virginia and what some of my friends and the way their families had experienced in the U.S. as immigrants and forming their extended communities of family members. I think my freshman year—so every year they do a culture night. At least then they did. They had a culture night. And it would always involve food, and always involve some elaborate play.
And I remember my freshman year I was the male lead in the ACS Culture Night. It was like a spin on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” so it was “My Big Fat African Wedding,” and I was the black American marrying…I believe my wife was Nigerian, of Nigerian descent, and so, you know, all the craziness that ensued with our families trying to figure out our cultural differences.
00:18:56 And I forget what the second Culture Night was that I participated in, but I lucked out that I had a lot of great mentors. Many of them were African students, second generation African students. And a lot of my friends, again, like I said, I’m still in touch with today.
Carmen: Yeah. No, that definitely sounds very impactful. You brought up the word mentor, and I think it’s great. Not often does anyone mention that students, other students, served as mentors for them.
Justin: Yeah, well, I feel like particularly among black students, we were very conscious of our responsibility to help guide incoming black students. So I remember people from the class of 2006-2007, they almost spotted you and said I’m going to make sure you get through this.
00:19:56 And so I think there was a heightened awareness of the necessity of having upper classman mentorship for students of color and black students in particular.
Carmen: Yeah, no, that sounds really nice, actually, to immediately be brought into a community, I think. Especially, as you said, in a place that wasn’t very diverse.
Justin: Mmm, mm-hmm.
Carmen: What about any professors or administrative individuals? Did any person in a professorship role or in an administrative role become like a mentor to you, or a mentor to the organizations you were in?
Justin: Okay. Well, I’ve already mentioned Jody Allen. Let’s see, I’ll say names today and then I’ll forget somebody, and be bugging you to try to record this whole thing.
Carmen: We can go in and add a note. It’s no problem at all.
Justin: Yeah, but definitely Jody Allen. I’ll say Robert Vincent, who’s an African studies professor.
00:20:58 Berhanu Abegaz, who’s also African studies in econ. Did I say Susan Kern already?
Carmen: Not yet.
Justin: Susan Kern. Professor Weiss in American studies. Magali Compan. Yeah, I think Magali Compan. I believe she’s still here. She was the Francophone African Lit professor that I really liked and really pushed me. Jackie McLendon. She hadn’t retired yet. I’m blanking on people.
I mean, Vernon Hurte was still here. When I arrived he was the assistant director of Multicultural Affairs. And Chon Glover was also instrumental during my time here kind of helping propel me forward. She was director of Multicultural Affairs when I arrived, and I think by the time I left she was the chief diversity officer for the university.
00:22:08 Jennifer Garcia, who was my boss, because I was an RA. My entire RA experience was under her. Let’s see. Shylan Scott was also an area director at the time. I think she has a different position now. I never worked for her, but my girlfriend at the time was an RA under Shylan, and so I ended up being close to Shylan as well. I know, so it’s a stretch. I’m trying to think of other people, but, you know, it’s obviously a mix of staff, faculty, res life, you know, different departments on campus.
Carmen: And there were many. I mean, it’s clear that you had a lot of individuals who—
Justin: Yeah, I think I needed it, honestly. I really, you know, I needed that accountability. I needed to be pushed at different times in my college career. And I think I really needed that encouragement because I think there were times when I was at William & Mary that I felt discouraged. And thankfully I had that large network of people that helped keep me encouraged.
Gene Nichol, who was president at the time. We could probably do a whole interview session on that. That might be the defining experience from my time at William & Mary because he was the incoming president my freshman year, and my junior year he left. And I was a great admirer of his and was very involved in the activism to convince the Board of Visitors to keep him here.
00:24:00 And then also I came to really like President Reveley as well. We have a connection through Farmville. His father was the president Hampden-Sydney College, which is right outside of Farmville, during the 1960s when they were desegregating, so that’s a really interesting story of courage on the part of his father.
Dee Royster is another professor. She was sociology. She may have been sociology chair. She was definitely in the sociology department. She ended up leaving, but I served two terms as NAACP chapter president and she served as advisor while I was president. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of people here. This is going in the archives. I feel like I need to mention everybody. Anne Arseneau and Ginger Ambler. Who else? I’m blanking on a lot of people.
Carmen: It’s fine. Truly we can always add in a note if you did want to do another one.
Justin: I will say, I mean, you know, I was one of those students that definitely sought out…I guess connections with staff and faculty, administrators. I mean, I felt like those barriers shouldn’t have been there. And one of the things I used to always do as NAACP president, we would invite kind of leading officials to our meetings to meet with especially freshmen, like to have them understand, very early on, that this is your university.
These are the people in leadership. You should not be afraid of them. You should feel comfortable approaching them. And if you feel something isn’t right, you should feel empowered enough to advocate for yourself, and these are the people who kind of hold those strings. So we were very conscious of the need to kind of build those bridges early on with administrators and college leadership. Yeah. All right, I’m going to come back to this question.
Carmen: That’s fine. If you think of someone as well you can just shout the name out in the middle of this so we’ll know what it means.
Justin: Yeah, all right. I think I might do that. All right.
Carmen: Okay. Well, yeah, no, that is…it’s fantastic to have the type of accessibility to individuals at pretty much every rung of administration and professorship here.
Justin: Randy Williams. Go back to him. He was…I think he might have been assistant dean, associate dean of student affairs. What’s the office that handles academic performance and success and all of those things?
Carmen: Yeah, I don’t…
Justin: He was in that office, but he also helped me charter a fraternity when I was here. And that was a strange story, too. So I didn’t join any of the historical black fraternities that were already established. I ended up chartering the fraternity that my dad had been a member of. My senior year we were finally able to get it established on campus. And Randy came in at the perfect time, because he was already a member of the fraternity. But my dad had pledged him. And so there was a weird connection.
Carmen: That is a weird connection.
Justin: Yeah. I guess him kind of paying it forward. My dad initiating Randy and then Randy helping me establish the Omega Psi Phi fraternity here at William & Mary.
Carmen: Did you know you wanted to do that all along, or is that just an idea you kind of developed during your time here?
Justin: I think I did come into William & Mary knowing I wanted to join a fraternity because I had grown up around it. My dad, as I said, is an Omega. My sisters and my mom and my godmother were all members of Delta Sigma Theta. And numerous other family members who are in other organizations. So I grew up around it. And when I got to William & Mary, I believe at the time there was only one black fraternity here.
00:27:57 And I had friends in that organization, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to join. And then I think while I was here one fraternity returned after being gone for like a decade maybe, and then another one was chartered while I was here. But ultimately decided that, you know, I’d charter my own organization. I felt the family connection was there.
I had an incredible mentor who taught at the local middle school, Michael Brown, who was a member. He had pledged at Hampton University. And he was someone that I really looked up to. He ran the mentoring program on Saturday mornings for students in the local school. And I think he kind of gave me kind of that extra…I mean, he didn’t outright push me to do it, but probably without him knowing he gave me that extra push to do it. So we had a great group of guys that came together to make it happen.
Carmen: So just briefly, because I don’t know, I’m ignorant on this topic, what is the process of doing that? What is the process of founding or getting a charter?
Justin: What’s the process? [Laughs.] That’s a trick question. So let’s see. All right, so officially you need to have at least eight members in order to charter a chapter. And guys had been trying to charter a chapter of Omega Psi Phi at William & Mary for decades, and for different reasons it just never came to pass. But what ultimately happened, a graduate chapter was formed in the city of Williamsburg. So kind of unlike predominantly white organizations, the majority of your commitment really extends after college.
00:30:00 And so they established a graduate chapter in Williamsburg. And really that chapter was established so that they could oversee the chartering of a chapter at William & Mary. So Randy helped charter that graduate chapter, and Rudy Chounoune, who was a law school student and a member of Omega Psi Phi, helped mentor the undergraduate men who were interested in Omega.
And, you know, paperwork and, you know, you had to do physicals and tests, and had to write essays and different things. And it was a pretty big deal because I know for us, when we learned our fraternity history, we connect our history to the founding of Phi Beta Kappa, and that’s the very first thing you learn when you’re learning history. And to finally have a chapter of the organization at the college where Phi Beta Kappa was founded was significant.
00:31:00 Our fraternity is the first black fraternity to be founded at a historically black college. It was founded at Howard University in 1911. So that’s also very significant to finally have a chapter here, knowing the history and the fact that it was founded at a historically black college, to have that here, you know, was really important for us as well.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s major. And that does sound like a lengthy process, but it was ultimately successful.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. I’d say for me, I mean, there were…what is it, starts and goes, what’s the thing?
Carmen: Yeah, like ebbs and flows.
Justin: Ebbs and flows. I think ebbs and flows maybe over the course of three years, you know, while I was here, but things finally came together. I think the right people were in place my senior year, and so fall of 2008 is when it became Omega.
Carmen: That’s great. Well, that’s a really great opportunity then to talk about all of the other things that you were involved in.
Carmen: I want to know how, first of all, in just a 24 hour day—
Justin: Did you come across a list?
Carmen: Oh, yeah, there are lists, and there are really long lists.
Justin: Where do you find lists of activities?
Carmen: They have different student records. Or you can also find them in the Colonial Echo, because it’ll list off all the things you’re involved with throughout.
Justin: Okay, all right. Well, you can share—
Carmen: I’m going to share the list and you tell me if I miss anything or if I have anything wrong, okay, with it.
Justin: It’s the first I’m hearing this. Okay.
Carmen: I have African American Male Coalition. The—
Justin: True. Am I supposed to say?
Carmen: No, you don’t have to say anything. I didn’t know if you… I’ll read them all and then you can tell me.
Carmen: The Spotswood Society. You were a president’s aide. The president of William & Mary chapter of the NAACP. Admissions tour guide. Brothers of Omega. A Reves Center resident. Branch Out International. A resident advisor. A guest columnist for the “Flat Hat,” which I know because I went and saw those articles in the “Flat Hat.”
Justin: Oh, wow, I didn’t know I was a guest columnist in the “Flat…” Okay.
Carmen: Yeah. And you participated in the AIDS Tanzania and you did study abroad. And then you were also part of the Sharpe program. Did I miss anything?
Justin: African Cultural Society wasn’t in there.
Carmen: Yes, you’re right. I did miss that. That is…
Justin: So I was involved in different things at different periods of time. I wasn’t involved in everything simultaneously. I think another thing that had a really transformative impact on me was my experience as an intern in the admissions office. And I was also an officer—I think I might have been vice president of the Multicultural Ambassador Council. And that organization’s mission was to actively recruit students of color to William & Mary. Yeah, so I was involved in different things at different times. And I’ll tell you how that happened.
00:33:54 When I first got to William & Mary I didn’t want to be here even, you know, after everything. I felt like the way I was able to make myself want to be here was by getting involved, you know, making connections, doing things outside of my comfort zone. I was determined. I said okay, I’m here. I’m going to do things that will help make me want to be here, but then also do things that will help turn this into the place that I wish it had been when I was touring.
And so I think that motivated a lot of my involvement, particularly in the admissions office, wanting to be someone that students like me could identify with as soon as they come through the admissions door. And I think, too, just coming from a small town I just felt like, you know, this is my chance. I’ve got to experience it all. There’s a lot out there I don’t know I want to see, want to learn.
00:35:01 In hindsight, I did too much. But I did have a great experience doing those things.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely, I’m sure. And you said—well, okay, so you said your time in the admissions office was obviously very impactful.
Justin: Yeah. Oh. Earl Granger. How could I…? Oh, gosh. I hope he doesn’t see this.
Carmen: We’re going to tell him…we’re telling him you brought him up later. [Laughs.]
Justin: Yeah. But, you know, maybe not.
Carmen: You saved him for this section. That’s fine.
Justin: Yeah. And trying to, you know, run a list of names, yeah, Earl Granger. You know, yeah. Yeah, Earl played a really big role in my time at William & Mary. And he, I think to this day, is still like an uncle figure to me.
Carmen: How so? How did he play that role?
Justin: So at the time he was…I don’t know what the title was, but he was over the admissions office. And he just always took an interest in students and assuring that we were doing well. And we just formed a bond over time. I still stay in touch with him to this day. So he played a really big role in my time. He was just a great mentor. I mean, he’s a member of another historically black fraternity, but I always said that if I hadn’t become an Omega, I may have possibly, on a really good day, considered his organization. Because he was such a great mentor to me while I was here. So yeah, Earl Granger.
00:36:57 Yeah, to admissions. There’s a lot of admissions people, too. So there was Henry Broaddus was in admissions when I was there. Incredible guy, as you probably know.
[Kaylie Cotay]. She’s no longer there. But Kaylie read my application. I know she read my application because she sent me a note. She sent me a note after I applied to William & Mary, just like a really nice personalized note telling me how much she really appreciated the essay that I wrote, which was a poem about my family history and connection to Virginia, and really to the college. Yeah, Kaylie.
Or Randy was there. So Randy graduated in 2005. But he always seemed like he was a lot older. And he ended up being a dean of admissions as well.
00:37:55 Deborah Basket. I don’t know if Deborah’s still there. Yeah, everybody in admissions. They were great.
Carmen: Yeah, it sounds like that your time there—well, your purpose for being there, but also your time there was just impactful to you, and probably likely to many others who did see you when they walked through the doors or did get to interact with those individuals in admissions.
Justin: Yeah, I hope so.
Carmen: So were there any other, of that very long list, were there any other organizations during which like your time with them stands out to you as extremely impactful or meaningful?
Justin: I think my involvement in the NAACP kind of became my defining organization because of the time that I served as president. Not the length of time, but because of what was happening while I was president.
00:38:55 That was when everything was happening with President Nichol and people being uncertain about whether he would continue or whether he’d be fired. And the NAACP really became a leading voice in organizing the campus in support of President Nichol.
The admissions office, serving as a president’s aide, like being able to honestly share your thoughts with individuals who could immediately make a change. And for one year I served as the student assembly rep to the Board of Visitors, and so we were responsible for sharing the concerns of students, again, before a very important body that could instantly implement change.
Justin: Yeah. I would say those probably…those things.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. Do you remember any specific issues or things that were brought up before the board or the president that in particular stood out to you that you could bring up?
Justin: Mm-hmm, yeah. Things that were brought up, incredibly significant. So Gateway to William & Mary was the huge initiative that I think at the time I was here was kind of on uncertain footing, and so we were definitely advocating for that. And we were able to successfully get, I forget the amount, but it was over a million dollar endowment connected to Gateway to William & Mary while I was here. Yeah, Gateway to William & Mary was a big deal.
00:40:58 What else? Wanting an expanded student diversity center. So there was no student diversity center when I arrived at William & Mary. We had the Office of Multicultural Affairs. But one of the things we really wanted to see was kind of a more comprehensive and larger space to support students of color and other students here at William & Mary who are open to connecting with different cultures.
I’m trying to think what else was happening. What was happening during…? The Lemon Project. The NAACP was very involved in…not demanding. That’s a strong word, right? Not everybody likes that word.
Carmen: They were advocates?
Justin: Yeah, we were advocates. And it wasn’t just me. Again, upper classman mentors who had also served as officers of the NAACP were really vocal, and felt like after they graduated it was important for me not to let the conversation die down.
And I do feel like the Nichol controversy presented an opportunity to get the Board of Visitors to commit to that work, and so that during that window after he left, we made sure that we expressed that this is your opportunity to prove to us that you still care about the things that President Nichol cared about. President Nichol was known to be a champion for diversity, and here’s the opportunity to continue these initiatives; will you do that? And we publicly asked them those things and gave them the opportunity to stand up and express their support for that.
00:42:56 So yeah, so the Lemon Project, Gateway to William & Mary, and a center for student diversity were three big things that came about during my time.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. And if you don’t mind—and of course we could do another interview on this if you wanted—but I do want to just touch on the Gene Nichol controversy and kind of everything that happened at that time because it was a really tumultuous time for William & Mary, but also you were quite involved, as you said, with advocating for him and his position, and the things he believed in. So do you mind just giving your perspective on kind of what was going on at the time and your involvement in that?
Carmen: Do you need a drink of water first?
Justin: I probably should.
Carmen: Just to prepare.
Justin: Okay. Okay, so there’s some back story to all of it. There was some racial strife on campus, and I think there was a period of time, I guess maybe it was 2004, where students of color felt very marginalized, like more so than ordinary.
00:44:07 And there was the campus bake sale that I think was Sons of Liberty had set up this, I guess you could call it, a protest to demonstrate why affirmative action was problematic. And so they had this bake sale in the middle of the student center where they charged different prices based on your race. And, I mean, kind of all hell broke out.
And a lot of minority student activists felt as if the administration didn’t really respond the way they would have liked. You know, they didn’t really support students of color the way they would have liked, given the whole fallout from that bake sale. And I think that definitely led to President Nichol being hired, because here you have someone who was a civil rights attorney, and he could speak to these issues and help unify the campus.
00:45:00 And when he came in, I think his installation was like, I think, basically my freshman convocation, if my memory serves me correct. And so he came in the same time that I arrived at William & Mary, and he came in saying all the right things. And especially for students of color and LGBT students, and I’d probably say women as well, he was saying the things that for so long these marginalized groups wanted to hear from leadership.
He said the right things when it came to diversity, inclusivity, and ensuring that everyone at William & Mary felt as if this was the place for them. Of course me coming in not wanting to be here, I was like okay, he’s, yeah, this is music to my ears because you’re going to transform this place, let’s go. That’s kind of how I felt.
00:45:55 And he really connected with students and was able to inspire us in ways that very few college presidents are able to do. And so when we started to get wind of the rocky relationship he had with the Board of Visitors, we were really concerned.
In an effort to make the Wren Chapel more inclusive and historically accurate, he made the decision to remove a cross that had been gifted to the university. I think that’s kind of when the fallout began. We had alumni who were writing these think pieces and editorials all across the country, and people revoking donations. And McGlothlin, John McGlothlin, I think his name is, revoked a $12 million gift to the college.
00:46:57 And so you had this huge fallout. And it became clear that Gene Nichols’ position as our president was on a rocky footing, I guess you could say. And I remember I was at a student leadership conference specifically for black students. It was a conference founded by Dean Hardy, Dean Carroll Hardy, who had—I guess she was like the first black woman to serve as an administrator at William & Mary. She was over diversity at the time. But in her retirement she continued this conference that she had founded while she was at William & Mary, and it was now being hosted in D.C.
And a bunch of us went to that conference. And I remember we were in a hotel room. I think we were just like revved up from the sessions and things. And we were discussing what could we do regarding President Nichols.
00:47:56 And we came up with this idea to create this t-shirt. And I think students today create t-shirts a week, like they create a different t-shirt every week now. But we didn’t have, like it was a big deal, I think, to have t-shirt—
Carmen: It took more than…
Justin: Yeah, it took more. And, you know, the t-shirt expressed how we truly felt, and it said, “If Gene Nichol isn’t welcome here,” and on the back it said, “Then neither am I.” And we designed these t-shirts, and we ordered these t-shirts, and were kind of very strategic in the students we reached out to to wear these t-shirts, and really created this campaign. And suddenly you saw students all across campus wearing these bright yellow t-shirts that said “if Gene Nichol isn’t welcome here, then neither am I.” So I think from there you started to see more and more events and rallies being organized.
00:48:55 And I guess this may have been in the spring, the spring of 2008 when the Board of Visitors was holding one of their meetings. We organized, and it was a group, it extended outside of NAACP by this time. A group of us organized kind of a silent vigil.
So when the Board of Visitors were walking into the Muscarelle Museum for their meeting, they were surrounded by thousands of students all wearing these yellow t-shirts, and they were silent, just simply holding candles, as they were walking to their meeting. And then all the Board of Visitors members went to the meeting.
For whatever reason, Gene Nichol and his wife arrived later than the rest of the board, and when they got to the Muscarelle Museum, everybody erupted in applause. And so, you know, to have like that deafening silence to like, you know, this boisterous, you know—
Justin: Yeah. And I feel like shortly after that we got the email from President Nichol saying that he was stepping down. I mean, it was very… I mean, it was a very strong email—[laughs]—I guess you could say.
But honestly, when I think back on my college experience, that was definitely the defining moment because it taught me…I think it taught me about power, really. And I think that’s probably the most important lesson I gained from William & Mary, and probably the lesson that people, especially, I think, marginalized communities, could benefit from understanding better than we sometimes do. But where does power actually reside? And in that situation, it was a matter of wealth.
00:51:01 And even as students, though you may feel involved in decision-making, ultimately decisions come down to the bottom line. And I feel like that was a decision made because of the bottom line of the college, and they felt that President Nichol had become a liability. And for us to be on more solid financial footing, we could not have a rabble-rousing president in the president’s house. And I believe that’s why he was terminated.
Carmen: From the sound of it—but I just want to make sure I’m right—it seems like a good number of students supported Gene Nichol and were—
Justin: Yeah, no, he definitely, he had overwhelming student support.
Justin: And it’s not as… You know, here we are ten years later. I’m not even negatively judging the Board of Visitors. There were members of the board that I knew, and they were people I was able to talk to immediately after this fallout happened who were explaining their rationale. Or not even their rationale. I guess they couldn’t technically explain what had happened behind closed doors, but they were trying to kind of expand my understanding because obviously they’re able to see things that students aren’t able to see when they’re making tough decisions.
And there were people on the board who I definitely trusted. I had worked with them in different capacities. And hearing from them and hearing them say they stood by the decision, it did mean something to me. These were people who were also forward-thinking people who felt like this was still the best decision for the college.
00:52:55 And that kind of forced me to take a step back and say okay, maybe there’s more to this than what I’m seeing as an undergraduate. But the way it was handled was pretty terrible. I mean, I remember the fallout and the students being upset. We had news helicopters swirling around campus afterwards. It was a lot to experience, but it was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I’d ever had in my life up to that point. I think it definitely helped me become a critical thinker. Like all those things that I guess you want from a college education I got from that experience.
Carmen: Right, yeah. Yeah, and so also, I mean, so that in and of itself, just that, just trying to support Nichol and hoping that his tenure would continue, and then finding out it wouldn’t, that’s just kind of the halfway point, right? Because then a presidential search would have to open up.
Carmen: So can you talk about that side of it as well? I think I read that then rector Michael Powell opened up some maybe forums for discussing.
Justin: Yeah, there were like these town hall forums and breakout meetings, and students making demands and wanting transparency, all the things you would expect. And President Reveley was named the interim president at the time. And shortly after him being appointed, I invited him to an NAACP meeting. It was like this is an opportunity for us to engage with him in an intimate setting. And finding out President Reveley’s family history, I think it would have been really easy for me to not give him an opportunity at all.
00:54:58 But knowing what his family had done in my hometown I think really helped me open up to the possibility of saying okay, we can deal with him, we can work through this. This isn’t the end of the world having President Reveley in office. Like I said, his father had been instrumental in integrating Hampden-Sydney College. His mother operated an integrated preschool in secret.
And Prince Edward County, Farmville is notorious for its civil rights history. I mean, schools were closed for five years in Prince Edward County. And so you had the Reveley family at that time doing things that weren’t just unpopular, but could cost you your social status, could have economic repercussions, could have repercussions beyond our imagination. And they were doing things that I felt were right.
00:56:00 And so fast forward, and here’s another Reveley. I said, okay, the Reveleys aren’t so bad. But yeah.
Carmen: Was that opinion shared by most students that you knew at that time?
Justin: I honestly can’t say. That all went down my junior year, spring of my junior year. And then my senior year I feel like I was a little aloof, honestly, because that was the year I really focused on chartering my fraternity, and so I felt like I was kind of disconnected after that. And I also feel like I withdrew some even after everything had happened. And I spent kind of those three years like really…I guess kind of really building up William & Mary in my mind as this place that had the potential to change quickly, I guess.
00:57:06 But everything that happened with President Nichol definitely kind of brought me back to reality and made me realize that change is very difficult and it has consequences, and not everyone is going to like change. Yeah, so I can’t really speak much to the aftermath. I feel like I was slightly checked out after that. And actually, I was checked out in many ways. I think it was in that year that I learned the value of talking to professionals and the importance of mental health. I think there were a lot of things that I had to kind of grow into because of that experience.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah, especially because it sounds like, from what I’m hearing, when Nichol came in, he was advocating for a certain thing. And that was a change in a positive direction. And for years you saw this moving in that direction. And then to have it just right then, in a moment—I mean, obviously it was more than a moment—but yeah, in a moment to see that halted and maybe even feel like that was being reversed in some way.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely. So, well, we’re about to come to the end of Reveley’s tenure now, so if you would, or if you want, do you want to reflect back on just what his impact has been? Of course you’re seeing that as an alum.
Justin: Yeah, I mean, well…so I had the experience of being a president’s aide under both presidents. I feel like not many people had that experience, which was really strange. I will tell you after everything that was going on I felt like maybe I should no longer be a president’s aide. I had talked to Chon, Dr. Glover, and I said I think I’ll probably just resign and kind of leave that.
00:59:06 You know, it’s fine, I no longer have to be a president’s aide. But Chon encouraged me to continue on. She told me, and I still remember this to this day, I reflect on it at different moments when other things arise. But she said never give up your seat at the table. She said never give up your seat at the table. And I remember her telling me that. And so I continued through my senior year. I was still a president’s aide.
And Reveley and I, we’ve stayed in touch over these years. I’d even say we’ve grown to be friends, to some extent. And I’ve invited him to Farmville for different occasions. I was working in Farmville as a civil rights museum director, and he participated in different programs that we’ve had. His son is now president of Longwood University, which is, again, in Farmville. It’s right next door to the museum where I used to work and the museum is now part of Longwood.
01:00:02 So there have been different opportunities there where we’ve connected. So I’ve definitely stayed in touch. I’ve brought colleagues to Williamsburg and kind of, in the last minute, like he’s graciously welcomed them to the president’s house and spoken to them and different things like that. So, I mean, very different styles, very different vocabularies when you talk about Gene Nichol and President Reveley.
Carmen: But, yeah, that is a unique position or perspective you were able to have by being a president’s aide for both of them and to witness firsthand those different styles and how that transition happened there.
Justin: And it seems like…so you look at both presidencies and you think about the potential of Gene Nichol, the argument could be made that Reveley has been a better fundraiser. He has helped put William & Mary on a more solid financial footing. He is successfully leading…what is the campaign called?
Carmen: Oh, yeah—
Justin: The Now Tomorrow—what is it, it’s something…what is the name of it?
Carmen: The For the Bold campaign?
Justin: For the Bold.
Carmen: Hey, but Now Tomorrow can be the next one. That sounds good to me.
Justin: Okay. So yeah, so, I mean, he was a successful leader of For the Bold. So I feel like okay, economically, right, William & Mary is in a better position. But I do feel like something was lost when President Nichol resigned. And he wasn’t fired. He technically resigned when he found out his contract wasn’t being renewed. But I think we lost something culturally as an institution when he left.
01:02:00 And I think now, given everything that’s happened, and the struggles that marginalized students still face today, and perhaps in some cases even more so, I wonder what the campus climate and culture would be like with President Nichol leading the institution. And a lot of it is generational. I mean, he was a different generation.
Carmen: Yeah. It’s an interesting thought experiment to think what it would be like even if Gene Nichol came in now.
Justin: Yeah, right, exactly. I mean, I feel like the students today are dealing with issues that were much more under the radar even when I was here. I mean, we had a very vocal LGBTQ presence here at William & Mary, but I think their political influence has definitely grown in the past decade.
01:02:58 Nobody was talking about—well, maybe sociology classes, of course—but the whole concept of intersexuality was not really being discussed then the way it is now. I remember seeing a web series that a student had started here, like a recent student, called “The Real William & Mary” on YouTube. And I saw that. I was blown away just by the way students were talking because they were having conversations that I feel like I’m just now really starting to have as a 30-year-old. They’re able to articulate these things as 18-year-olds. I was just really impressed.
But it also spoke to the fact that not everything has improved, and in some cases things may even be worse. And it does feel disheartening when you see students dealing with issues that were being addressed, or you thought were being addressed when you were here.
Carmen: Yeah. So kind of while we’re on this side of things—
Justin: Yeah, I know I’m all over the place.
Carmen: No, no, no. This is…it’s good. So what I like to ask—
Justin: I’m going to check in with my therapist while I’m here. This is bringing up some—
Carmen: No, this is good. This is excellent. I mean, you are—
Carmen: Yeah, go ahead.
Justin: Kelly Grace—Kelly Crace. Kelly Crace. He’s now I think like vice president of wellness or something. When I was here he was I think like director of the counseling center. So I have to give a shout out to him, especially mentioning mental health.
Justin: He was a great influence on me as well.
Carmen: That actually…I would like to ask about that, how you believe, at the time you were here, William & Mary’s institution handled just mental health and handled wellness, and if you thought that that was being addressed well here during your time.
Justin: As far as mental health, mental wellness, when I was here, it’s hard to say. I think there was definitely room for improvement when I was an undergrad. I think right now there’s a new center, a student wellness center.
Carmen: Yeah, it’s being built.
Justin: Under construction. When I was here it was in the basement of Blow, I think, the student counseling center. And I’m seeing initiatives now that I wish had been in place when I was a student here. I see this greater awareness of neural diversity now that wasn’t even discussed when I was a student, or if it was discussed, I wasn’t aware of it.
01:06:00 And I was pretty involved, obviously. If something was being discussed, I would probably know. But there’s a greater awareness of neural diversity right now that I know would have been beneficial to me when I was a student because I do have a different learning style.
I think there are initiatives underway to remove the stigma for students of color to seek mental health services because I think…when I was here I feel like it wasn’t discussed as much, but I have white friends and white colleagues who talk about counseling like it’s going to the grocery store. And that’s not how I was raised at all. There was still a lot of stigma associated with seeking out professional help. And so when I finally did, it was after having to work through a lot of cultural baggage that said that wasn’t the appropriate thing for a black male to do.
01:07:00 And I feel like people are more vocal with the need for students of color to take advantage of these resources, even if culturally we may be raised to say that’s what white people do or only white people have those types of problems, or you might be weak, or whatever else is said. And there are a lot of reasons for that. And I think it’s going to be important, this new space. I’m really glad to see that because what was being offered when I was here was inadequate, I think, for the students who needed it most. If you’re already dealing with whatever challenge, every step is difficult.
01:08:00 And we have to do a better job of making these resources as easy to access as possible. So I see improvement. But it also seems like the issues are much more complex, because now it’s no longer an issue of depression, but it’s compounded by, you know, it could be sexual identity, it could be class, and like the multiplicity of issues that these counselors have to be prepared to address. So maybe the verdict is still out, but colleges everywhere are dealing with it. It seems like at least now the students who are coming through college now are much more open about seeking counseling services, which is a good thing.
Carmen: Yeah. In particular I like to ask that here at William & Mary because take out just the difficulties and the stress of being a human who is dealing with human things of any variety, you’re also coming to an incredibly academically strenuous place, so I’ve always wondered—
Justin: Yeah, a lot of pressure to perform, a lot of pressure, I think, for people, a lot of concern about resumes, and titles, and conditioning yourself for future opportunities, and competitiveness. But there was one initiative that I caught wind of recently out of Student Affairs kind of emphasizing the fact that you can make a contribution without a title, and I thought that was really nice to see you don’t necessarily have to hold an office to be impactful. I think more people need to take that to heart.
Carmen: Definitely. That’s positive. I hadn’t heard that yet, but that’s really—
Justin: Yeah, I forget the name of it, but I know it definitely…
Carmen: I’ll look it up. You have the connections. You should just send these along. Send them along the email. Never mind. I should be aware of it because I work here. So I want to just ask briefly about what was going on more broadly in the nation and world during the time you were here and how you saw sociopolitical events in the world at large manifest on campus, or if you did at all. Hurricane Katrina, of course, had just hit, so that was a major impact in the United States.
Justin: Was that 2006?
Carmen: That was 2005, so—
Carmen: —yeah, August, I believe, so yeah, right maybe as you were entering school. And then of course the respective wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Justin: Yeah. And Obama was elected.
Carmen: Obama was elected, yeah.
Justin: My senior year, yeah. My senior year. Fall of my senior year.
Carmen: Yeah, absolutely major, of course. And then on a much harder note, there was—and this might have been after you graduated. Or no, it probably was right before you graduated. The killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California.
Carmen: Which of course now in media and just overall these stories are much more common because we hear them more through media, but it was happening, obviously, then, and that was a major event.
Justin: Yeah. Well, speaking of Oscar Grant. So a huge shift has occurred, I think, in our consciousness when it comes to… I mean, it’s police brutality, police killings. That was not on our radar at all when I was a student here. There could be multiple reasons for that, because it’s not as if it wasn’t occurring them. But technology was different. Facebook was about four years old, five years old my senior year.
01:12:00 Facebook came on the scene my senior year of high school, and it was much more of a closed network.
Carmen: Yeah, you had to have someone invite you to get in.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah, spring of my senior year in high school my friend Lisa, who had already gotten her William & Mary email address, was able to invite me to join Facebook, and that’s how I was able to join once I got my William & Mary email address, by being invited by another William & Mary student. So just the way of sharing information was very different then. Excuse me. I’m stuffy now. So the awareness wasn’t there the way it is now. What was going on? What were the major issues? Like I do remember hosting events about Hurricane Katrina.
01:12:59 There was a group of students—I unfortunately couldn’t join them—but there was a group of students who went to New Orleans to help with relief work when I was here.
One of the biggest moments for me was really the election of President Obama when I was a student here. I do remember kind of like the chaos that ensued after he won. I was…I think I might have been RA-ing in Monroe at the time. I could hear all the craziness happening in the Sunken Gardens. And I don’t know, it’s a little bit of a blur, I have to be honest, because I remember going with friends to Wawa. I think we bought like bottles of Andre.
Carmen: It was a celebration.
Justin: Maybe I didn’t buy the bottles. Maybe I didn’t even have any of the Andre, actually. But there was a lot happening. And then I ended up celebrating in Sorority Court. That’s all I really remember from that night. But there was a lot of excitement surrounding his election. What else? It’s crazy because I’m trying to think about like what was going on in the world. And here I was an IR major, but I’m having trouble thinking about some of the defining moments of that era. That’s what, 2005 to Two Thousand…
Carmen: Yeah, 2009.
Justin: I mean, we know the war was going on, and I think today people are a lot more critical of why we’re there, but when I was a student, to express criticism, to not just be very overtly patriotic, was viewed as…I don’t know.
01:15:09 It would have been…you would have definitely been, I think, in the minority if you expressed… I mean, obviously there were people who didn’t support what was happening, but when I was here I think people, they had an event every September, September 11th. And hundreds of students would come out. And I think there were like flag t-shirts involved, and there was a lot happening I can’t imagine students today would do. It’s almost like this blind patriotism. And I feel like students today are, I think, a lot more critical of those types of acts. It was still, for us, fairly recent.
01:16:08 Most of us at the time were probably in middle school or high school when 9/11 happened, so was it definitely etched in our minds. I guess a lot of students carried that with them into college.
Carmen: Yeah, that makes sense.
Justin: You saw that happen and kind of the commemorative efforts.
Carmen: Yeah. Wow, it’s been ten years. I mean, so much has changed in ten years. Just culturally so much has changed.
Justin: Yeah. I think Twitter was really becoming popular by the time I was graduating. Instagram was nonexistent. There was no Snap.
Carmen: No Snap chatting?
Justin: Really Facebook dominated the social media realm. By the time I left William & Mary I was already over it.
01:17:00 I don’t have a Facebook account do this day. I got rid of it. I didn’t like where it was heading. Because I know myself and the insecurity that I was starting to feel because of it just didn’t sit right with me. And I knew that it was because of the way social media was evolving, or Facebook at the time was evolving. I don’t even think we called it social media at the time.
Carmen: Yeah, because it was a standalone, pretty much, at that point.
Justin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, but like just the act of curating images and constantly checking to see who liked things, and looked at things, and trying to curate your own identity online, that in many cases is a false identity that you want to share, I just became very disillusioned with it. And I think 2010 was the last year I had Facebook. I haven’t had it since.
Carmen: You got out before it got too…
Justin: Yeah. And even then I thought it was getting crazy, and now it’s just…it’s gone in an entirely different direction that I couldn’t have imagined.
Carmen: Yeah, to witness social media during an election period especially I think was…
Carmen: Yeah. And then I was also thinking—I keep bringing up all these kind of sad things. I will get to happier moments. But the great recession also hit right there, right before you graduated. Was there an awareness on campus of how that might play out?
Justin: Oh, yeah, there was definitely awareness because people didn’t know what was going on. And it was impacting the job decisions of a lot of my friends. I think the safe route was to try to go straight to grad school. TFA was really popular back then. People were finding alternatives to kind of traditional career routes, and people were doing temporary fellowships and different things.
01:19:00 Yeah, that was crazy. I’m trying to think what year. That was Two Thousand…that was 2008, yeah. Yeah, I’m trying to think, 2008. There was a lot going on, though. For me personally, there was…so 2008, 2009 for me is a pretty significant blur in my memory, honestly. And I think a lot of it had to do with getting the fraternity off the ground and being hyper focused on that.
But I think in hindsight I can look back and say that my relationship with William & Mary did change after everything happened with President Nichol, and so I was a lot more checked out my senior year. So there was a lot happening that year. And I was having relationship problems. There was a lot happening, though.
Carmen: All the stuff.
Justin: Had a little bad breakup there, yeah, senior year drama, you know, 18-year-olds, not—no, how old? Twenty…20-year-old senior year. All the things.
Carmen: And then of course you’re thinking about what’s next, I’m sure.
Carmen: And I do want to get to that as well. I know I’ve kept you on this William & Mary topic for so long, but that’s good. It’s what it’s about. But I want to kind of switch gears and ask about just really positive moments. Is there anything in particular that you found fun or did for fun while you were here that you want to put on record?
Justin: Fun things, stuff out of college. I mean, I feel like it’s the typical, you know, parties and… Although pretty early on I stopped going to the frat parties. There was nothing appealing about that after a certain point.
01:21:02 But the black organizations on campus, we held our own parties that I always thought were much better than the majority white organization parties. And so you got a lot of black fraternity, sorority parties. They were always fun. African Cultural Society always had great parties.
I remember one of my friends, she’s Ethiopian American, we met during PLUS, and that was the first time in my life I’d ever had Ethiopian food. Her mother had sent down some home cooked Ethiopian food. And to this day I still love Ethiopian. And I remember there was one…I don’t know, maybe I was working at the admissions office. For whatever reason, the African Cultural Society was having an event. [Yodi], my friend, her mom had made something, and I couldn’t get to the event where the food was being served. And Yodi saved me a plate and like hid it under a chair at the party. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s a good friend.
Justin: I couldn’t go to the party because I was working, but… And the party was like disgusting. It was like a sweat box party. But there was this plate of food under this chair that she had put under there for me to grab when I got free from work to come by and get it. So I’ll never forget that.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s a great friend.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Yeah, there were a lot of good times. But again, I really enjoyed working in the admissions office, and I had a lot of great experiences connecting with high school students. The Saturday morning program I mentioned earlier, Mike Brown, who was a middle school teacher.
So Mike Brown was a middle school teacher in Williamsburg, and he started this program called Rights of Passage that he had been a part of when he, I guess, was in middle school. And one of the requirements after you go through this program is as soon as you have the opportunity you have to recreate the program wherever you are.
01:22:56 And so it was this early Saturday morning. Like to see the number of students we were able to convince to get up that early to go every Saturday morning was incredible. And it was a mentoring program. It was kind of a recreational program because there was a component focused on physical fitness, and students were exercising. They’d have breakfast during the program.
And then typically each Saturday had a topic. It could be contemporary events or other issues, but the students had the opportunity to break up into gender specific groups, which today I think would probably be problematic. But back then, again, it wasn’t on people’s radar the way it is now, you know, the non-binary nature of gender identity. So anyway, we’d break the students into groups and the guys would have the opportunity to kind of discuss the issues, and the young ladies would break off and have their opportunity to discuss things that they felt were relevant to them.
01:24:02 Then we’d bring them back together. But it was an incredible program. And I feel like there were some Saturdays where we had maybe 40 students coming out. Again, we would have a caravan of cars from campus. People would car pool and we would leave at like maybe around 8:00 or so in the morning, which is early, again, for Saturday. Saturday morning after a Friday night, 8:00 a.m. is early. And that was one of my favorite experiences here at William & Mary.
Justin: I’m trying to think what else. Pre-Kwanzaa. I really enjoyed Pre-Kwanzaa every year. And that was an event that I think the Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted, but the black student organization, or black cultural organizations, you could be of any background, led the organizing of Pre-Kwanzaa.
01:25:05 And it was just an incredible showcase of talent. Like people who could sing would sing. If you were a pianist, you would perform. Greek organizations would step and do different things. But I remember, and I can’t remember what year it was—so it’s always emotional, and at the end of it people have the opportunity to speak. Like you can reflect. You can say something.
There was one year, because I typically, if it’s a large crowd I typically won’t be the first person to raise my hand. But there was one year I decided to speak. And I don’t remember what I said, but I just know I was in tears, like tears to the point where I was like having trouble articulating anything meaningful. I don’t know how—I wish I could remember what was going on at that time, but I know I needed that release. Something. Something was said. I don’t know, it just hit me, and it was just kind of like this flood of emotion came out in the Commonwealth Auditorium, which was like standing room only.
01:26:02 And here I was with the mike, like crying into the mike. So that happened. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s an awesome platform, though, to have the opportunity to reflect.
Justin: Yeah, yeah. And again, it was a time for people to share. There were definitely other people who shed tears during that event. But I guess it was always at the end of the semester, and I guess in many ways it was like a really affirming experience, and it also provided you with this emotional release. So in many ways it was like a large group therapy on the campus.
Justin: I’m sure other things will come to me, but that’s what comes to mind right now.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah, great. So I do want to shift to your trajectory post William & Mary. And I should have brought this up when we were on the previous topic about just some difficult things going on.
01:27:01 But I want to bring this up before we switch to your trajectory post. I was reading some of those guest columns that you had in the “Flat Hat.”
Justin: Yeah, I had forgotten about that. I’m curious to hear—
Carmen: Yeah, you’re very—well—
Justin: —what I was writing about.
Carmen: Well, just several different ones. I think one actually did end up expressing the NAACP’s support of Taylor Reveley during the interim—
Justin: Okay, okay.
Carmen: —and just appreciating how he was trying to help heal the college and lead towards reconciliation. And then another one—well, the initial one was discussing holding a rally in support or opening a conversation up about the Jena Six from the situation in Louisiana at the time. Now that one at the moment I think was just basically a call for, like, to get individuals together and—
Justin: Yeah, the Jena Six. That was a pretty big deal, I remember.
Carmen: Yeah, but then there was then a community member who responded—
Justin: Yeah, I had forgotten about Jena Six, yeah. Sheesh, yeah. That was crazy.
Carmen: Well, if you don’t want to talk about it we don’t have to, but I did note that that was something quite controversial that did come up in articles and—
Justin: Yeah. Can you refresh my memory?
Carmen: Sure, sure. So essentially I think it was the William & Mary chapter of the NAACP, but I also think maybe the Williamsburg chapter and different speakers and all came into this rally that…and I don’t know if I have the verbiage right, but essentially the idea was—
Justin: To express support and solidarity with what was happening.
Carmen: Yeah, yeah. It was alleged. We didn’t know…we don’t have facts, and so—
Justin: Yeah, these students, these young students in Louisiana had been…I’m trying to remember the situation. But it was like egregious the way they were…the retribution they would experience for getting into a fight, I think, with the white students.
Carmen: Sure, yeah. I think there were six that had gotten in a fight with a white student who had been…I think they actually continued to go about their day. But the charges that they tried to bring up were attempted murder charges at some point. And so yeah.
Justin: And there was a student here—I’m trying to remember what happened, because there was a student here that basically, I think he essentially said like you’re all overreacting, get over it.
Carmen: Yeah. He used some terminology that, I mean, I think was offensive in saying that he was disgusted in, you know, the actions of you and the NAACP and the support you were offering based on all of that. And so yeah, I just…it seemed like that was a big moment.
Justin: I had forgotten all about that.
Justin: Wow, yeah.
Carmen: I definitely researched.
Justin: Yeah, seriously. I’m trying to think. I guess that might have been my junior year, I think. What year? Do you have the date?
Justin: Yeah, yep, 2007, 2008, my junior year. I will say one thing I remember about that whole effort. I mean, I guess right now I kind of question the amount of good it did, or like any long-term, you know, probably…well, maybe it did have long-term impact.
01:30:07 Not necessarily on what was happening in Louisiana, but on the minds of students at the time. But one thing I really appreciated about that awareness raising campaign was that it was very diverse. You had students of all backgrounds who made it known that they were also upset by what had occurred and very openly and vocally expressed their outrage over the situation. That’s one thing I do remember. Because again Facebook, that was how you hosted things and shared, you know, you made a Facebook event. And back then—I don’t know if it’s the case now—but you can, you would select a host.
01:30:58 And it was really important for you to be very deliberate when determining who would be listed as host of an event that was being held. And when we created that Facebook event, it wasn’t just the NAACP listed as the host, but we had gotten kind of buy-in from white sorority presidents, white fraternity presidents. I mean, it was an incredible cross section of campus leaders listed on that event page as a host. And I felt like that was really important for them to say we are also part of this. So I do remember that. Yeah. Wow, I can’t believe that it…that’s scary also to think that memories like that could slip away.
Carmen: Well, know that you can always go back to the “Flat Hat” to find your articles.
Carmen: But yeah, I think—and I don’t have this verbatim or I would read it—but I think at the end of your response kind of to that negative response to the rally or the gathering you essentially said we need to be willing to have these conversations, you know, like this is an opportunity to have open conversations and create dialogue about scenarios like this and see it from multiple perspectives. And so yeah, I think you could say that at least that statement, at the very least that statement I’m sure was impactful, and doing that, having that event helped open routes and avenues for that conversation to be had.
Justin: Mm, okay. I’ll have to go back and read that now.
Carmen: Yeah, for sure. I can send you the link.
Justin: Okay, thanks.
Carmen: So now we can transition, if you would like, to your post William & Mary trajectory.
Carmen: So you did in fact leave William & Mary, graduated and you went on to several different things. And I have a list of those as well, but please, again, correct me if I’m wrong or if I have these out of order.
01:33:04 You’ve worked for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.
Carmen: And George Mason University’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
Carmen: You held fellowships at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Carmen: The U.S. House of Representatives and the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.
Carmen: So those are all before, of course, your time at the Moton Museum, and then your current job, which we’ll get to, for sure, but can you speak a little bit just about those first few experiences?
Justin: I know that bio. You pulled a bio which actually, my official bio recently changed. You must have pulled that from my current job website which, you know. My current bio is a lot shorter.
Justin: It doesn’t have all those details. So I’m glad you captured that when you did.
Carmen: It’s good to bring it all back up.
Justin: Yeah. So what should I speak to?
Carmen: Well, just those particular things. Those are a little bit all over the place, but all kind of involved in education and history and culture, so just how you kind of got involved in those specific things.
Justin: Yeah, okay. I think post William & Mary I would primary stay rooted in kind of the nonprofit sector, so nonprofit management had become a big interest for me. And I think that stems from my time at William & Mary when I was a part of a project called the Phoenix Project. Not Project Phoenix, the Phoenix Project, where we worked in Petersburg. It was this initiative to train cross sector leaders. And so I was a fellow for that program, and then ultimately became a staff member for that program.
01:34:58 And then throughout had always kind of had it in the back of my mind that I would want to get into history kind of a little bit more overtly. Like I remember for the cross sector leadership program that I was a staff member for, we had to have like staff bios, and I think we shared what would be our dream nonprofit if we could start a nonprofit, what would we do.
And I remember my answer. I said I would create a nonprofit that exposed young people to local history and engaged them with—something like that, engaged them in the process of helping preserve that history or something. And essentially that’s kind of what happened. I came back to Williamsburg and was able to work at Colonial Williamsburg. And that was a temporary post.
01:35:56 And I was offered a longer-term position at Colonial Williamsburg, but I turned it down when I was invited to come back home to manage a grant project for the U.S. Department of Education. And the goal was to help generate entrance and promote training. And at the time it was pretty novel. It was called project based learning.
And so we worked with school districts all across South Side Virginia, and we were connecting them with the leaders in project based learning, who were out in California, connecting superintendents in the South Side and doing all this kind of professional development work, and trying to increase the amount of PBLs, what’s called project based learning in the rural school systems in South Side Virginia. But this work was heavily inspired by the history of South Side, and being kind of the epicenter for the civil rights movement in Virginia, and particularly around the education.
01:37:01 So it was like this contemporary initiative inspired by the culture and the role that this region of Virginia played in the fight for school desegregation. And when that project kind of reached its end date, because it was a grant funded project, the Moton Museum asked me if I would continue on as the first associate director for museum operations at the museum.
And at that point the museum wasn’t what it is today. It was really a shell of a building and the renovation was just getting going. Actually, we were still fundraising to complete the renovations, so we weren’t even sure if it would be completed at all, really. So that was a really interesting experience.
01:37:56 And it actually was in line with what one of my mentors at Colonial Williamsburg said, Harvey Bakari, who I also need to mention, and Patricia Brooks, who was at Colonial Williamsburg at the time. I need to mention her as well.
But I remember Harvey, when I was debating about what I should do, he said if you ever have the opportunity, you should work for a small museum and you’ll get that breadth of experience. And I was able to get that at Moton because I did everything from securing major gifts to cleaning the bathroom and like everything in between. It was duties as needed, what’s the job…?
Justin: Adjusted responsibilities. Whatever. So it ran the gamut of responsibilities. And 2013 we reopened the building, opened the first permanent exhibition after a $6 million renovation.
01:39:01 And it’s Virginia’s only civil rights museum. The building is a National Historic Landmark. And it tells the story of Virginia’s role in producing the Brown v. Board of Education case. Few people are aware of how important Virginia was to making that case possible. But that story really began in the Moton Museum, which was a former high school. And the students went on strike. They became plaintiffs in Brown. They were the majority of the plaintiffs. They continued to fight.
The next generation of students faced the five year school closing, and during that time they were to produce another Supreme Court decision, Griffin v. Prince Edward, that reopened the schools and prevented school closings from happening across the country. So out of my hometown you have two Supreme Court decisions that helped integrate and save public education. That’s the story that Moton tells.
01:39:56 And I was there for about five years, five or six years. I knew I needed a change. For one thing it was my hometown. And no matter how old you are, it’s hard to ever grow up when you’re in your hometown. It’s a small town. So wanted to have the opportunity to be out on my own a little bit more, but then also have the opportunity to stretch myself in different ways professionally.
And I had worked with Virginia Foundation for the Humanities on different projects while I was a Moton, so I had a working relationship with them. They had supported Moton. Actually, had helped found Moton back in the ‘90s when the building was at risk of being torn down. And I’m there today. It’s been a year and a half since I became director of African American programs for VFH.
[Fade out; fade in.]
So I’m now at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, or Virginia Humanities. It’s a nonprofit, but it’s also connected to the University of Virginia. And we’re also the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is a federal agency.
01:41:03 But our responsibility is to support the humanities across the state, and so we fund research, fellowships, we provide grants to cultural organizations, we produce our own content and programming. We have regular shows. Anything related to the humanities. Even some STEM.
Our biggest claim to fame right now I’d say is the fact that we were the early funders of the research that became the “Hidden Figures” film. Margot Shetterly. She was working on the research for the book and reached out to us seeking support. And we provided some seed funding.
And essentially that’s what we try to do, find those really incredible stories that just simply haven’t had the research or haven’t gotten the attention or recognition that they truly deserve and try our best to support them in any way that we can, and make sure that a larger audience is conscious of that history and culture.
01:41:59 That’s what we did with the Moton Museum when community members were working to save that site and prevent it from being demolished. We funded the Loving story research. So there have been different projects like that that have popped up that have had national and international attention.
Justin: But ultimately the goal is to help share Virginia stories with the world.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, wow. It’s quite the trajectory, it really is. And in a way just even those things back at the beginning you were saying were important to you early on, even so much as international relations because these stories are impactful on international, too.
Justin: Oh, yeah. I was just having this conversation with my colleagues this week. Officially my direct—my position is director of African American programs, but in some ways that’s limiting when you think about the fact that it’s a diaspora community.
Justin: And does the term African American limit us in some ways because in Virginia, despite what Virginians may think, it’s a global culture. It’s played a pivotal role in the Atlantic world, and it really is a mixture of people who have come from Latin America, and the Caribbean, and Africa, and Europe, all these different cultures coming together.
And I really think my training here in the international relations program is definitely influencing the way I view the work because I feel as if we have to do a better job of placing Virginia in an international context. You get beyond local, and regional, and state, and national. I mean, it’s bigger than that.
Justin: And so right now we’re working on ways. We’re undergoing a strategic planning process, and that’s one of the things I’ll definitely be pushing for, how do we expand our understanding and the way we approach the very complex identity that pulls from so many different places.
Justin: And it’s also, as I say this now, it’s like also very Virginian of me to say Virginia is the center of the universe.
Carmen: That is very Virginian.
Justin: We are very self-involved as a state. We do think we’re the center of the universe. But somebody could probably make a research supported argument as to why that is the case.
Carmen: I think so.
Justin: So we have to, I think, do a better job of making sure the global relevance of our work is front and center as well.
Carmen: Great. And you even answered, in answering that, another one of my questions, which was kind of how you saw your William & Mary education or experience here play out in your career trajectory.
Justin: Yeah, so William & Mary definitely opened my eyes to the way the world truly works. It’s okay to be idealistic and it’s important to be idealistic, but ultimately you also have to be a realist.
01:45:00 I think healthy skepticism is very important. I think being able to deal with roadblocks and setback in a constructive way is something that I learned at William & Mary. The importance of coalitions and diverse coalitions is something that still sticks with me. I think by being NAACP president, I was very proud of it, too, we had a very diverse leadership when I was NAACP president. I mean, oh man, we had Muslims, we had Latinos serving on our leadership team, we had East Asian Americans. I mean, it was a very diverse group of students who were united in the commitment to improve this campus for all students, really.
01:46:00 But that’s definitely stuck with me, diverse coalitions and why that’s needed. We had a strong relationship with the LGBTQ community through NAACP. And actually my mentor, who had been the president a couple of terms before me, was kind of a leading activist in the LGBTQ community and really helped shape my thinking and expand my outlook. And so that’s something that has stuck with me in my professional life today.
Yeah, there’s a lot. I’m probably not naming everything, but it, you know… I had ups and downs at William & Mary. I didn’t have a perfect experience here. But I still come back to things, and I’m sometimes surprised at the level of engagement that I have.
01:46:56 And I guess I still do carry that hope that things can become better. It’s important to be engaged and make sure that you do have that voice, and you’re in a position to advocate for the things that are important.
Carmen: Definitely. And as you said, you are still involved, right? Are you the current vice president of the Hulon Willis Association?
Justin: Yeah, I am currently the vice president of the Hulon Willis Association. Going back to the thing about titles, I don’t know if I necessarily need that title, but I can still contribute outside of an office.
Justin: But yes, I currently am the VP for HWA.
Carmen: Can you talk briefly about the impact of that organization?
Justin: HWA is important for a lot of different reasons. I think personally it goes back to my family and my family’s connection to the Willis family.
01:48:03 So Hulon Willis, Sr. was William & Mary’s first black student. He was a graduate student in education. He taught at Virginia State University and actually taught my dad, and so my dad was mentored by HWA, and so I feel like there’s an added responsibility because indirectly he’s had an impact on my life even though I never got to meet him.
But through my father and the experience that my dad with him as an experience, that has directly benefited me. And so there’s a kind of like this indirect intergenerational connection I feel with Hulon Willis, Sr., so I do feel a responsibility to ensure that his legacy is known and is carried forward properly.
01:48:53 I think we do have to do a better job of connecting current students to black alumni. And I think we’re starting to do that. We recently kind of reorganized our board. But I think it’s important for students to know that there are preceding generations that have gotten through the difficulties that they are facing now. And any words of wisdom that we can provide to them or any boost of encouragement that we can provide I think is really important.
I think there are definitely periods of time—and this is across the board for students—there are going to be those moments where you feel like giving up or you question why you’re here or is this particular thing worth the energy and effort you’re putting towards it. But I think to know that there are people who are successful, who have had those same sentiments, I think that helps you get through whatever predicament that you’re in. And so we have to do a better job of making sure those connections are there.
01:49:59 And I think HWA has a lot of potential for growth. There are other universities that have older kind of black alumni affinity groups that are doing things that I know we definitely aspire to do, and so I think with continued effort we’ll get there. And so it’s an interesting time because I feel like it’s kind of a reorganizing period for the core organization, but it’s 20 years old. So we’ve got decades to go, centuries, hopefully, right?
Justin: Yeah. HWA is very important.
Carmen: Great. So I’m pretty much right here at the end.
Carmen: So you get some relief after being on camera for two hours. One question just generally is are there any particular changes you would like to see at William & Mary in the coming years?
Justin: Changes that I would like to see at William & Mary. Well, I do hope we’ll have more diverse leadership. Here we are celebrating 325 years and we’ve only had affluent white men serve as president of a 325 year old institution. So I think obviously that’s unacceptable. And so I think we could send a huge message if we were to have a person of color or a woman or someone who’s gay or lesbian or trans even serve. I mean, if William & Mary—I would be really impressed if they had like a black trans Muslim woman serve as William & Mary’s president one day.
01:52:09 But the fact that that seems so farfetched is just problematic, right? So we have to kind of break out of this tradition of only having white men serve as president of William & Mary. You know, I think things are changing. I talked earlier about the need to remove stigma from mental health services and make sure that the spaces that are set aside for that work is welcoming for students, and it seems like that’s happening. There’s resources being put towards that. I am worried about the affordability of William & Mary.
01:52:58 Even when I was here a decade ago, which is a very short time, when you think about it relatively speaking, the price has just skyrocketed. And I am concerned about that. Because even if we’re able to provide significant financial aid, when students are researching colleges a lot of times they aren’t thinking about the amount of financial aid they will receive, they’re simply looking at the price.
And I worry about the number of talented low income and middle class students we may be losing simply because they have a side-by-side spreadsheet comparison and they see this one college is $5,000 less than William & Mary. Even if William & Mary can provide more financial aid than this college they might say I’m not going to apply to William & Mary because I can’t afford it.
01:53:56 I feel like it’s cliché to say we have to increase diversity, but I think we really need to think about what that diversity looks like because we could say on paper we have a certain number of black students, but if the majority of those black students are second generation African students from affluent families or the majority of those black students are coming from the suburbs and third generation college attendees, to me that’s not diversity.
I guess that goes back to what I said earlier. We really have to think about the class dynamic and really the diversity within these different categories. And so you can say you have a significant Latinx population—and this is all in my mind now because I’m doing some demographic research for work—but you can say you have a significant Latinx population, but if the majority of the members you’re bringing are white passing or come from a particular economic background, you can’t really pat yourself on the back.
01:55:03 And so I think we have to be a little bit more critical when it comes to the types of diversity we’re bringing onto campus. What do I want to change? Change some of these building names. Things that can seem superficial, but they matter. Yeah, change some of the names on the buildings. I think the Lemon Project work should be ongoing.
Increase faculty diversity, which I know is an issue nationwide when it comes to higher education. But the way I got through William & Mary is through the mentors I was able to find, and those mentors were more often than not people who shared similar backgrounds as me. And that was vital. And so we have to make sure that every student can reach out to someone who they feel understands them and receive that much needed support.
01:56:06 So we have to increase the diversity of our faculty. So how much time do we have? I’ll have to email you my list of things.
Carmen: Yeah, please do. I’ll add it in right in the metadata.
Justin: But some things shouldn’t change, like I would like William & Mary to remain small. I think that was one of the things that really drew me here. It wasn’t the size of a small New England liberal arts college, but it wasn’t the size of Virginia Tech or UVA I think even has like maybe 25,000 students.
I think the intimacy of William & Mary is important, and having a place that’s large enough where you have a great representation of different types of people, but small enough where you can deeply engage, that’s important. Because then you can bring all the diversity and you can have a large campus, and everybody is self-segregated, and you have no opportunity to interact with anybody different than you.
01:57:03 I feel like William & Mary is special because you are able to have those relationships. Like my sisters didn’t have that relationship and I think that’s because their college was simply too big. It’s not because they’re closed-minded or closed themselves off from people who are different. You go toward what’s most comfortable. And so as a freshman they found a pocket of black students and that was their experience throughout their time at college. So yeah, I’d like William & Mary to stay small. Could get rid of, what is that, Millington? I mean, it was…
Carmen: Millington is no more.
Carmen: It is gone now.
Justin: Millington’s gone? All right, what’s the other really bad Cold War era building? The government building.
Carmen: I’m not sure.
Justin: All right.
Carmen: Millington was right outside my window, so when they tore it down I heard and felt every… [Laughs.]
Justin: Okay, that’s great. All right, what’s the other building that’s right there on the corner right across from the B school? The government international—
Justin: Morton. Tear down Morton, yeah. I feel like there are couple statues I think it’s a little overkill but I’m not going to get into that. We don’t have time for the statue debate right now. But yeah, I think my biggest, or I guess I should say my greatest desire for William & Mary is that we truly become the inclusive, welcoming place that we claim we aspire to be, like actually do it and stop simply saying this is what we want to do and this is what we’re trying to do. Just do it.
01:59:00 If you want to make this place welcoming, that means you need to have a top down change. If you want to be able to attract more diverse students then you have to have the staffing and the faculty that also reflects that desire. It’s a top down, bottom up, side to side change that’s necessary. But I do think the potential is obviously there. I think the infrastructure is there. It just has to happen. What else? Recruit more students from the South Side of Virginia. Recruit more rural students. Those are things that can be done.
Carmen: Sure. And since we’re on the topic and you’ve spoken a little bit to this right now, but as you know we’re in the midst of celebrating 50 years of African Americans in residence. And as you’re talking about just increasing, of course, diversity, but diversity in kind of all directions, can you talk just a little bit about what you believe to be the value and impact of diversity and inclusion on a campus like William & Mary?
Justin: You said the value—what was the question, the value and the…?
Carmen: Yeah, impact of having a diverse and inclusive space.
Justin: Okay. All right, so the value and impact of having a truly diverse and inclusive place. So all right, I’ll use myself as an example. There was a lot of energy I exerted towards activism that I could have put towards classroom conversations, towards relationship-building with my peers. If William & Mary had been a truly diverse and inclusive place, I wouldn’t have had to direct that energy in other places and there are other students who wouldn’t have had to do the same, and so I feel like there are whole parts of ourselves that we aren’t able to contribute in other areas because we’re having to direct it towards advocacy.
02:01:08 And so even for white students, their learning experience isn’t the same as it could have been if we felt as if we could bring all of ourselves to that exchange, to that relationship. So in many ways even white students are losing out because students of color don’t feel completely welcome or included. I think just from kind of like a realistic perspective we know certain shifts are happening across society. And for William & Mary to truly claim this position of leadership, then they have to prepare leaders for this increasingly changing society.
02:02:03 We’re a couple decades away from…significant parts of Virginia will be majority Latinx. Is that reflected at William & Mary, a leading public university in the state of Virginia? That’s not represented here.
If we’re going to prepare students to be leaders of the United States or the world, then they have to be able to navigate and understand how the world works, and the way the world is working is it’s more diverse, it’s smaller, and you need to be able to have exchanges with people who may be different from you. So that’s like a learning outcome that William & Mary should really focus on if they want to adequately prepare students for the world. So that’s like a practical thing after graduation.
02:03:02 I think, too, so we call ourselves the alma mater of the nation, and we have all these ideals that we espouse, and we’re very proud of helping craft the fabric of this country. We’ve said so many great things, but we’ve never truly lived up to those ideals. And so if we are the alma mater of the nation, let’s actually walk the walk, right? And so if we like to look at ourselves as the origin of these pretty lofty goals, then shouldn’t we also take the lead on fulfilling those goals? And I think we should.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Very well said.
Carmen: So I have come to the end of my list of questions, but I want to open it up now to you, if there’s anything else you want to talk about now that we haven’t so far or something you thought I’d ask you but I haven’t.
Justin: I think we covered quite a bit, actually. That’s a really great list of questions and some pretty great research you’ve done. Yeah, I think I’ve pretty much said everything I wanted to say.
As an alumni, my love for William & Mary is not unconditional. I have no problem saying that. I do not unconditionally love the College of William & Mary. I conditionally love William & Mary. And I have certain conditions that I want to see and I have certain conditions that I want to see the institution work toward. But I can’t blindly and unconditionally love anything, right? Except, well, no, some relatives, right, obviously.
Carmen: You have to.
Justin: But even though you might disagree with some things they do, right? But I think alumni should hold William & Mary accountable, and I think they should push the university to be better. And the same way I don’t believe in blind patriotism. I think the best thing you can do is lovingly critique and push something forward. I’m happy with that. But that’s me. That’s the type of alum I’m going to be towards the college.
And so in thinking about the things I’ve said today, I never had a moment of oh, I love William & Mary to the point where I knew I had to come. I’m always amazed by the folks that have that experience because I can’t imagine…I mean, I guess I could imagine, but I feel like I’d have to be a completely different person. But yeah, I don’t think that’s the type of love William & Mary needs, and I don’t think it’s really helpful, either.
02:05:58 I think you can lovingly critique the things you really care about, and so that’s what we need more of.
Carmen: You were wanting to mention one other individual.
Justin: Okay, it’s the woman I’m currently dating and have been dating for the last three years now and is a William & Mary alumna. And I met her during freshman orientation. We did not date in college. We were both kind of like all over the place. But we remained friends after we left William & Mary.
And I guess I would say like there’s some quote out there, some cliché quote about friendships and relationships and love and all that stuff, so that’s what happened for us. And so hopefully soon we’ll have like a legal love story, I guess you could say, from William & Mary. But that’s one of the greatest things I’ve gained from my time at William & Mary, meeting my partner.
02:07:00 Irène Mathieu is her name, and we’re both class of 2009. And so regardless of whatever critiques and feelings I have about William & Mary, I’m definitely thankful for providing the space for us to meet each other.
Carmen: Sure. That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for participating and talking to me for so long today.
Justin: Thank you.
02:07:22 [End of recording.]
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