Mallory Walker, W&M Class of 2017
Mallory Walker arrived at William & Mary in 2014. During her time at William & Mary, she served as an Orientation Aide, a W&M tour guide, and was a member of Delta Gamma sorority. Additionally, she wrote a column, “Behind Closed Doors”, for the Flat Hat, and gained work experience through Phone-a-thon and the Reeder Media Center.
After graduating in 2017, Walker was chosen as a Mosaic Fellow as part of the Mosaic Program at Swem Library. She spent the 2017-18 school year working on a number of projects in Special Collections, including processing materials, cohosting a Digital Preservation Workshop, and fabricating several exhibits using university collections. She will begin a graduate program at Simmons College in Fall 2018.
In her interview, Walker speaks fondly of William & Mary’s beautiful campus, outstanding education. Since her older brother also attended the College, she recalls that she never “really felt like William & Mary wasn’t home.” She describes her favorite memories with her friends as “quintessentially college.” Despite this, Walker describes serious flaws in campus culture, such as the microaggressions she experienced as a black woman, the feelings of tokenization she felt in her white sorority, and the stigma surrounding mental health. Walker states that the institution likes to “skirt over the harder truths.” These factors have complicated Walker’s original “rose-colored” view of William & Mary. As an alum, she hopes the school will “reevaluate” tradition and prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equity into the future.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Mallory Walker
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: April 25, 2018
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt, the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 1:00 p.m. on April 25, 2018. I’m sitting in the Alumni House with Mallory Walker, class of 2017. Will you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Mallory: I was born on December 23, 1994 in Towson, Maryland.
Carmen: And what years did you attend William & Mary?
Mallory: 2013 to 2017.
Carmen: Great. So before we jump into William & Mary I want to hear a little bit more about where and how you were raised. Could you tell me a bit about your family?
Mallory: Sure. So my family…how far back do you want me to go? Okay. My mom grew up in a very religious household, and my dad grew up, he moved around a lot. He’s originally from North Carolina. My mom’s originally from Maryland, I believe. And they met in college and then they got married, and they had me and my brother. I grew up mainly in Howard County, Maryland, which is a county not too far from Baltimore. But I also spent some time, when I was very young, in Baltimore County.
00:01:00 And yeah, I had a very, like, classic middle class upbringing. I don’t know. I grew up in a very upper middle class area, though I wouldn’t call my family upper middle class. And it was a very white area. It was pretty, actually, I would consider it pretty white, but looking back, maybe after spending four years at William & Mary, it was actually a pretty diverse place. Yeah.
Carmen: Great. So when did you start thinking about college? Was this something that was discussed amongst your family while you were growing up?
Mallory: Oh, heck, yeah. I think it was like—well, let me say this first. My dad was the first of his siblings to go to college right after high school, because he was very aware of the fact that he didn’t want to stick around. He was like I’m getting out of here. I’m getting out of here as soon as I can. So he got a football scholarship and went to college. And my mom, it was just like a natural thing that she was going to go to college.
00:01:57 So it was an expectation growing up that me and my brother were going to go to college. That was like non-negotiable. But I started looking at colleges when my brother did. My brother’s three years older than me. And so I first looked at William & Mary with my brother when I was in about like the seventh grade maybe, seventh or eighth grade, and I spent a lot of time coming here when I was younger, and so it just kind of seemed like a very natural fit.
I really, really loved William & Mary when I first started looking here, and when I first got here I was really obsessed with the school. Because my brother loved it so much here, and his friends were always so kind to me, and it always just felt like a very welcoming environment. So yeah, I applied early decision. I applied to two schools. I applied to the school my parents went to and I applied to William & Mary. And I got into William & Mary and I didn’t have to think about it again.
Carmen: That’s great. So what are some other things that drew you to William & Mary? You said it felt very welcoming with your brother’s friends. What else about the school?
Mallory: I mean, it sounds pretty shallow, but this place is really pretty. Like it’s really, really pretty. It’s a beautiful environment. And like springtime in Williamsburg is one of my favorite times of the year. I mean, like the pollen sucks. But it’s gorgeous, it smells good, everybody’s out walking around, the grass is green, people are happy and excited. And it just, there’s something about that that is just so lovely. And I always visited here in the spring.
But I also think that I knew that if I went to William & Mary I was going to get a good education, and it didn’t matter what I was going to be studying, that just the fact that my diploma was going to say the College of William & Mary meant something. Like I knew that from the beginning, that I could walk out of here with whatever degree I had and it would still hold weight no matter what I did. And that felt good because I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to college. So yeah.
Carmen: And before we jump into that, because I want to talk about what you did end up studying, but do you have a very first memory of William & Mary? Whether it’s when you came here as a freshman or all the way back to the very first time you ever stepped on campus, what’s your very first memory? What it looked like, smelled like.
Mallory: First—well, I just remember it being very hot and humid when I visited with my brother. It was actually a really awful trip. It was like myself, my mom and my brother and then some other family friends, and we all came together. We stayed at the Day’s Inn on Richmond Road, which is now owned by the school. My mom and some other people in our group got food poisoning. None of us slept the night before we toured.
My mom, while we toured, was in the campus center like napping and sleeping, and then occasionally going to the bathroom to vomit. Like it was an awful trip. It was humid, it was hot. We were all really grumpy, and it was just abysmal. That was a pretty bad first memory. But it’s funny looking back now. My mom’s like oh, that’s William & Mary, yep. I had a feverish fever dream, and that wasn’t great. So yeah, that’s not a great memory, but that’s like the first one.
Carmen: Yeah, that would definitely stand out.
Mallory: But I definitely have this very visceral feeling, springtime, William & Mary, driving on 64. You get to that exit and the college is kind of, I mean, it doesn’t hit you right there in front of you, but you’re going through kind of Colonial Williamsburg and it’s so bright and vibrant, and the smell of the flowers, and the students walking around, and it’s just got this, there’s so much excitement in that. And like I still feel that sometimes when I’m driving here for work. I’m like oh, this is so exciting. Which is funny because I come here like every day. But yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, I think you paint a picture there that a lot of people relate to and bring up when they talk about coming back to William & Mary. It’s just a really beautiful place. So you mentioned you had no idea what you wanted to do when you came to college in terms of studies. How did you land on what you landed on? And can you kind of talk us through that process?
Mallory: Sure. So I really liked government when I was in high school. I thought it was really interesting, which is like kind of funny thinking, like I don’t think… Like I think I got here, I started taking gov classes.
00:06:00 I took a class with Clay Clemens, who is just like one of the most incredible professors you could ever meet at William & Mary. And he taught such a great class. But I thought that government was so depressing and complicated, and I didn’t like it anymore.
And then I was like oh, maybe I’ll do English. So I took a class with Kim Wheatley in the English Department, and I took a class with the Potkays in the English Department, so like best English professors ever, and I was like well that’s kind of cool. And then I found out the end of my freshman year that they were taking what was originally literary and cultural studies, which was like this strange conglomeration of just like different media sources and turning it into film and media studies.
And my freshman seminar was about Alfred Hitchcock, and I was like, well that seems cool, maybe I’ll just do that. And then I couldn’t get into any classes my sophomore year for film and media studies, and not until like my second semester. So then I was like, well maybe I’ll be like gender studies, or maybe I’ll just be English. And then film just seemed like the easiest choice. It was also not a hard major to complete and I found it really easy.
00:07:01 Not to say that it’s completely an easy topic. I just, it has that analysis that I love in English and it says so much about society that I thought it was…I mean, it made scenes to me. It clicked. It worked.
Carmen: Sure. And did any classes in particular stand out to you when you made that transition over to film and media studies?
Mallory: Like every single class taught by Arthur Knight. He’s just like the coolest guy around. Arthur Knight taught Intro to American Studies and that was just really, really wonderful. The class was about the rise of film in the 20th century, and that was just incredibly fascinating.
And I also found myself being drawn to Brian Castleberry because he taught my freshman seminar on Alfred Hitchcock, his classes. I took a class with him about horror films, and that was just really wonderful. He has a really great way of comparing film. And then Richard Lowry, who was in the English Department, he taught Theories of Film & Media Studies.
00:07:57 We ended up spending almost the entire semester, I think, talking about photography and what photography means for society. And that blew me away. He was like you might not understand everything you learn in this class, theory can be really convoluted and over your head sometimes, but if you can get a little bit of it we’re good.
And he’s one of those professors, too, that would just like throw out ideas. He never, like, he never felt like he had to be right. He never felt like we couldn’t say stupid things in class. We would just, like, just be like I don’t know, I’m just kind of thinking about this, and we’d all just sit around and talk and think about it. It was really cool. I had a lot of really great professors. I could go on and on. But yeah.
Carmen: Well, there’s definitely a moment for that, for you to talk more about the people who had an impact on you here. But before we do that, did you know, when you switched to film and media, what you wanted to do post college?
Mallory: Oh, my gosh, no. Well, for a while I thought I was going to work in entertainment. I had an internship with like a teen magazine for a summer. I wrote a lot of online articles for like those college websites. I thought that that was what I was going to do.
00:09:05 And then I found that those were like way too shallow. Like I don’t want to write about celebrities every day. I think celebrities are really interesting, but I don’t care about what Salina Gomez wore to dinner last night. That doesn’t matter to me. And there are bigger, more important issues to be talking about. So I was like, well, I don’t want to do that.
Journalism doesn’t really work for me because that’s also, I have a hard time being unbiased, like I have very strong opinions and I’m not willing to set those aside to write a story, necessarily. So those things didn’t work.
I thought that…everybody thinks that I was supposed to move to L.A. when I graduated, or New York. And I was like, well, one, I have zero production experience. Now I have a little bit more. And I don’t have any interest. It’s a very cutthroat nature, you know, would be struggling for a really long time, and that didn’t appeal to me either.
00:10:02 And then I got…hm. Then I decided that film preservation seemed like a good idea. I was like all my friends are applying to grad school. This was my senior year. I was like every single one of my friends is applying to grad school or Fulbright or something, and I was like I’m not doing anything. Am I supposed to figure out what I want to do now? I guess. So I was like I looked online, I looked on the Library of Congress’ website because I knew they had the…gosh, whatever, in northern Virginia, the film archives.
Carmen: At Culpeper.
Mallory: At Culpeper, yeah, and I thought oh, that’s so cool. And on their website they have a lot of resources for a master’s degree in film preservation. So I found a program. Arthur Knight was my advisor. I went to him and I said Arthur Knight, I think I want to do this for the rest of my life. He was like cool, I think you should talk to first someone at NYU, who never ended up getting back to me, but that’s fine, and then Carrie Cooper, Dean of University Libraries.
00:11:00 So I was like cool. Because there used to be a Library of Congress internship fellowship that was a partnership with William & Mary Libraries. Didn’t happen anymore. So he was like okay, I’ll get you two together. I met with Carrie Cooper. She was like I think I can get you a job. I said cool. So I worked one whole semester at the media center, which you’re not supposed to do. They’re supposed to hire people who can work there for years and years.
And then the fellowship kind of fell into my lap and I was like well, I guess I could do this. I need a job next year. I kind of want to go to film preservation school. That’s not library science, but it’s kind of that. But I also don’t think I’m going to do it right after the fellowship ends. I had these whole thoughts. I was like no-no-no, too much school, too soon. And then I got this job and I hated it at first, and then I liked it a lot. And I was like, well, I guess I could do this for a career. And I was like, well, maybe I’ll find a job. And then I was like wait, I need a master’s degree to get a job. So then I decided to go to school again.
00:11:58 That was a long-winded way of my whole trajectory of thought of what I was going to do with my life.
Carmen: No, that was great and we’re going to return to pretty much every piece of that.
Carmen: If you’re fine, we’ll return first to your time as an undergraduate, but we will come back to all of it.
Mallory: Okay, yeah.
Carmen: No, but that was actually really helpful to know. I think a lot of students have this idea that they’re supposed to know exactly what they’re supposed to do right after college, and that’s not always the reality.
Mallory: I know.
Carmen: Or even realistic, so thanks for sharing that.
Mallory: Yeah. And I don’t intend to do what I’m going to, you know. Whatever I do in five years, if I’m doing that for another five years, I need to reevaluate. I like the idea of constantly growing, and changing, and adjusting, and evolving. I might have already said evolving twice. But I think it’s important to reevaluate your goals constantly. And they should change because that means you’re changing as a person and change is good.
Carmen: Sure. It sounds like you want to lead a dynamic life.
Mallory: Ah, yes.
Carmen: So you were mentioning, well, you mentioned Arthur Knight, of course, and several other professors. So were there other professors you would like to bring up now, or mentors or advisors that were particularly impactful on your time here at William & Mary?
Mallory: That’s a great question. I think one other professor I really want to mention in Tanya Stadelmann. She is just such a powerhouse. She was the first production professor we ever had in the film department. There was like no production classes whatsoever. And so that was like the first time I had ever touched a camera, the first time I had done anything was in her class.
And she is so incredibly creative, one, and dedicated to the causes that she is working on. She’s made a documentary about a Superfund site in Upstate New York, and she’s, I believe, still working on it. It’s an absolutely wonderful film. And she’s so incredibly supportive of all of her students. I’ve taken…let’s see, she was there for two years when I was a student. Still here now, obviously. And I took maybe four classes with her. And just like always available, always willing to push students.
00:13:58 Always really interested in students from underrepresented backgrounds, for sure, and telling those kinds of stories. Just really great. Like all of the classes she taught completely shifted my perspective on film and what film can do. I remember the one class that wasn’t production based was I took an eco cinema course with her, and that was absolutely mind-blowing, just like the idea of thinking about environment in terms of film just changed my whole perspective of life. It was great.
She’s so great. She’s really—she actually, she’s just really cool. I’m really glad that I got to have her as a professor. And gosh, she better get tenured. Just saying. She needs to stick around. She made the department so much better in the time that I was there.
Carmen: It sounds like she definitely had an impact.
Mallory: Oh, yeah. She’s so cool.
Carmen: Were there any other individuals on the campus or figures that stood out to you, whether their impact on your life or on the campus at large during your time here?
Mallory: There’s definitely a lot of people on this campus that I definitely look up to. I definitely look up to Carrie Cooper. Like single mom, dean of the library, what in the world? And she also just kind of fell into library science as a field, and I think that’s really, I don’t know, really speaks to me because I didn’t expect to be doing this at all.
And then, I mean, I can think of so many people. Like Maria, who, graduate assistant now in Special Collections. I had a class with her, and that class was absolutely just like mind altering, wild. I didn’t think that, like—I love ghosts, and I’ve always loved ghosts and the supernatural, and esoterica, and I think it’s fascinating. And I didn’t know that that was something that could be studied academically. And then when I realized it did in her class, it just like opened up so many doors for me. I feel like I wouldn’t want to work in archives in libraries if it wasn’t for that class, because what is more representative of a ghost than an archive, truly?
00:15:58 It’s like the…it’s history. It’s living history, essentially. I don’t know. Maybe not living. Might not be the best phrasing. But so great, so cool.
Carmen: Dead history, something.
Mallory: Yeah, yeah. Sticking around, for sure. I can’t think of anybody else. I mean, can I count my brother?
Mallory: Like he was here when I was a freshman, and having him here was really significant, I think. I don’t think I would have enjoyed college as much as I did if I didn’t have him guiding me through that first year. That was definitely super important. And even now, because he comes back and we have this one thing in common. Like we weren’t super close when we were both at home, but then once he went away to college and then I came and followed him here, we became so close.
And I don’t really enjoy the phrasing of like…or the thought process that, like, I owe William & Mary, necessarily. I think a lot of the growth and the change and the discovery that has happened in my four years certainly could have happened at another institution, because it’s about the individual and not necessarily the institution.
00:17:02 Maybe the environment of higher learning, but not William & Mary itself. But I do think the fact that me and my brother both went to this school, I think that was particularly special.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s great. Good. And by the way, if you think of other names feel free to blurt them out at any given time.
Carmen: So I like to ask about the administration of the time someone attended William & Mary. And so for the time you were here, President Taylor Reveley was—it’s been during his presidency, and his tenure is about to come to an end actually this year. So I’m wondering if you could offer some reflections on his impact at William & Mary, whether positive or negative, because I think at a school the size of William & Mary there’s something about proximity to higher level administrators that you might not find elsewhere.
Mallory: It’s weird. There’s a certain amount of celebrity that has—and I really, I would love to have seen what it was like for past presidents. I know, you know, Nichol had a lot of support in certain areas and less so in others. And I think that with Reveley, he has really been built up as something, which is really fascinating. Like when I came in, when I started, I think there was definitely a shift in the way I saw the world when I was a student here.
And I think when I started I saw this campus with rose colored glasses, Reveley included. I was a member of the cult of Reveley. I loved him. I have a picture with him before I was a student here at a football game. I like ran up and I was like, let’s get a picture. And of course he was willing to take one. And he’s just treated like this incredible celebrity even now. Like I hear people talk about like, oh, I saw him the other day and it was just whoa.
Well, one, he’s just a person. Two, in the past year, year and a half there has been really problematic things. He’s said, Reveley has said very problematic things in the past year and a half.
00:19:00 And certainly I think…I have many thoughts. I don’t think any individual should be treated with that level of celebrity as Reveley has been. I think that he has been here for a lot of good. I think especially maybe in the past week I have become a little less resentful of him with the apology that came from the Board of Visitors.
But I also think he’s incredibly problematic. I mean, the fact that a year ago when the Black Lives Matter conference happened he said hey, I have color, too, and he said that he took a civil rights course when he went to what, Princeton. No. That was in the ‘60s. Professional development as a person is important and so is personal development, and if you’re not actively improving your views of society to reflect society, like no.
00:20:06 It’s not acceptable. And I think that especially in the light of so many recent events with when—you know, I’m thinking about when the election happened, and students were being threatened on campus, and what I saw from my perspective was a president sending an email discouraging such actions, but only because he was encouraged to do so by students themselves. And I think that is an incredible problem.
I mean, there have been issues of racism on this campus the whole time I have been here, and I’m not sure if the administration has really acted, truly, against it. I understand we’re all trying to save face, we’re trying to appease people, and trying to keep the order of things. There’s politics involved.
00:20:58 But yeah, I think from the time I started to now my opinion really has gone from incredibly positive, blindly ignorant, to better informed, for sure.
Carmen: Would you say that that similar arc happened for a majority of students, from your perspective, the one that you experienced, this admiration to noticing the—or having that being challenged?
Mallory: I think so. I think there’s certainly, though, a lot of people still who don’t understand the problem with Reveley. I think somebody anecdotally, it was a friend of mine talking about she was in a class—she’s still a student—she was in a class and somebody was like I don’t understand why people don’t like President Reveley.
And it’s just like no-no, no-no-no, there are true reasons behind this, and I think if you’re not making yourself aware of those issues, that’s a whole ‘nother problem, obviously. But I do think a majority of the people around me in the circles that I exist in certainly went through that arc.
00:21:55 And I think maybe that is maybe the natural arc that takes place when you are a student of a marginalized or underrepresented background for William & Mary in general, not just the administration, that it’s kind of the perspective or the journey that you go on, yeah.
Carmen: I would like to talk some more about that, but before we get off the topic of presidents, we just elected a new president, the first woman to be president of William & Mary. Do you have any reflections on that happening or anything you’re hoping to see from that new president in the coming years?
Mallory: Well, one, I’m so excited. She loves libraries. She loves digital humanities. She loves diversity and inclusion. All three important things that I love. But I also think having not just a president that was previously a professor, and a president that is a woman, and a president who’s fairly young are all things that I’m very excited about. I’m very excited to see how she interacts with students. I really think that she’s going to be…we’re finally going to kind of come into the time, come to the times.
00:23:02 That phrasing wasn’t great. But we’re going to be entering into a new era and an era of William & Mary that maybe will kind of reflect more of the student body, more of what people want, the school that they want to be at, and the changes that they want to see happen. I kind of am hopeful. I’m really hopeful. I’m really glad it’s not another white man because, well, I’m looking at all of them behind me, or in front of me right now. It’s a lot of white men.
Carmen: It is.
Mallory: And that needs to change.
Carmen: It’s changing.
Mallory: Yes, the times are a-changin’.
Carmen: They are. So I’m thinking I’ll structure the next couple of questions kind of like the arc you spoke about, but feel free to kind of take this in any direction you want. I thought we’d start with some of your favorite memories of your time at William & Mary, whether they’re from the beginning of your time here or even more current. So some of your favorite memories or experiences you had here that were really impactful to you.
Mallory: Oh, wow. That’s a hard question. I have really fond memories of when I first found out that I was going here. It was like a really sweet moment for my family. Because they sent out this awfully cryptic email that’s like something about like how good news can come in small packages, like welcome to the tribe. And I was like what does this mean? And I was like Mom, Dad, look at this.
And then they started like screaming, and then I called my brother, and he was at the Caf, and he put his friends on speakerphone, and they were all screaming, and I was like but I don’t know if I’m in yet, like I don’t know what’s happening. And I have a lot of good memories, too, with my family. My parents didn’t go here, but they love this place like way more than I think I ever could. And so I have really good memories of being here with my family.
00:24:56 Also some of my very close family friends, people I’ve known my entire life, went to William & Mary and were students while I was a student, which is just…so there’s something very familial about the memories I have on this campus. It’s just very tied in with my family and my life at home, and so I never really felt like William & Mary wasn’t home. I think my parents often got upset with me because I would be like oh, I got to go home, to William & Mary. Oops. My bad. And so I have a lot of fond memories around that.
I’m trying to think of other things. I think everybody says this, that the people definitely make the school what it is. And I think I have so many positive memories with so many of my friends on this campus, just ridiculousness, or just like good moments where I knew I had the group that I needed to have, I had the support I needed to have, that kind of a thing, that it’s hard to pick individual moments. There’s lots of good ones.
Carmen: Well, was there anything in particular you and your friend group would do for fun?
Mallory: Oh, my goodness. I spent a lot of my senior year holed up in my apartment with my friends in Ludwell, which was just like why did we all live in Ludwell? We would always come over, someone would make margaritas, and someone else would make us watch a movie none of us wanted to watch, and we’d just sit around. Or we’d read Creepypastas to each other, which are just like poorly written Internet horror stories and laugh at them. Just complete ridiculousness. Or like just, you know.
I have a lot, especially towards later on, I have a lot of fond memories of just like running around on campus at night just being stupid. Just like running around the Sunken Gardens. I never streaked the Sunken Gardens, I never did the triathlon, but just memories of just kind of like drunken silliness, that we were always just so quintessentially college it was hard to not, even in that moment, be like “these are the times of our lives,” like that kind of just cliché-ness.
00:27:08 But those are good times. They were fun. Less worried about the world and more worried about your Wawa. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s great. I think that phrase should be coined.
Carmen: Amazing. All right, so kind of following the arc, we’re going to dip into maybe some more difficult memories or moments that you experienced on campus. We can get back into some of the things you were discussing, the experience of being a person of color on William & Mary’s campus or specific memories in particular that you hold as being negative, just anywhere you want to take it.
Mallory: It’s hard, I think, too, because I compartmentalize. So there’s like bad memories that are specifically college related and then bad memories that happened on the college campus.
Mallory: Like I can certainly name moments that were hard for the college campus in general. I remember my sophomore year during orientation a student committed suicide, and that was really hard. I was an OA at the time, and I didn’t know him, but I had this very visceral emotional reaction, and I think all of the OAs did, and it was really hard. But that was also another moment where you kind of, the community comes together, and I think there are definitely criticisms for the fact that the community at large comes together after the hard moments happen, and not before, to necessarily be proactive. I think too…
00:28:57 I think my worst moment on campus in general was like right around the election, the 2016 election, because that was particularly hard for me. It was like the trigger for me finally seeking help for my mental health, and getting on medication, and seeing a therapist, which were good outcomes. I made some great friends during that because we were all just sad and crying in Swem, and that was kind of a nice outcome as well.
But it was really, really hard to be around campus and have people not understand the fear and the pain. Because being on this campus and not being white is hard, in general. I mean, like being non-white in predominantly white spaces, which is like we’re in America, like whatever, that in general is hard, and it’s hard to explain to people. So it was even harder to explain to people why it mattered so much and why it was so hard.
00:30:00 I had never had that much trouble having those conversations with my roommates before, and suddenly it was difficult explaining to them why I felt like putting a safety pin on your lapel truly means nothing because it’s performative ally-ship. Or my friend Kyle, who’s wonderful and great, he was getting yelled at on the street because his shorts were short and he wasn’t going to be able to survive in Trump’s America, according to the people hanging out outside the bars, you know, stuff like that.
And that was really tough for a good long time. There were people on this campus who definitely, like in the administration that were more supportive, but it was resoundingly silent from the administration and from professors alike. Because I don’t think any of them knew how to react, because they were, you know.
00:31:00 Bush got elected and I don’t think people were nearly this upset because he was an actual politician. But anyway, I digress. Yeah. That was like a hard time I think for myself, but also for the campus in general. There were definitely a lot of other bad memories I have, but I think those are perhaps things that happened in my life while I was here, and not necessarily things that happened in my life that related to William & Mary, if that makes sense.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah, it definitely does. I was wondering if you would talk a little bit more, I think it would be helpful to hear maybe about the experience of being a person of color on the William & Mary campus during the 2010s, because a lot of what we’re doing through this oral history project is really comparing what that experience has been like.
Carmen: And honestly, the lines of continuity through that experience for the past 50 years. So if you wouldn’t mind maybe expanding on that just a little bit.
Mallory: Yeah. I think a lot of my experience, too, has to kind of be…I can’t think of the word. Well, there has to be a disclaimer. There we go. Disclaimer. That I have always been incredibly comfortable, and I don’t think I realized how comfortable I was in white spaces, and so those were often the spaces that I sought out. So I put myself in maybe spaces where…
I’ve always seen myself, and I think I kind of define myself now as approachably black, which means I’m biracial. My mom is white, my dad is black, and maybe sprinklings of other things here or there, but that’s, again, neither here or there. But I’m…
White people have a really easy time explaining their racism to me. Like my entire life those conversations have been things that white people say to me. They are willing—people are comfortable saying offensive things around me because maybe they think I understand. Maybe I don’t seem black enough to be offended.
00:32:56 So that’s interesting. But then there’s also just a side of me that, like, I was willingly in those spaces, maybe because I didn’t know where else to exist. So I think it got harder as time went on because I started to really, like, I got deprogrammed from this whole white way of thinking, maybe. I’m not sure if that’s the best way of phrasing it. But I started to kind of see the light. So people making micro aggressional comments about my hair, that kind of thing.
But then there were, I mean, there were bigger things, too. I mean, people on this campus are racist and people are often racist and do not realize it. So, I mean, it was always… I joined a sorority my freshman year because I literally thought like oh, there will be no other way for me to make friends, and I never had that exposure to, you know, a black sorority, so I thought, well, I guess that’s not for me. I’m going to join a social sorority, a white sorority.
00:33:56 And I remember after joining the one that I joined, and I was feeling happy to be involved, and then I had heard these kind of rumors about that members of the organization, during the voting process for new members that year, had said hey, why don’t we wait to vote on the black girl. And these were people who said this who were never outrightly mean to me. Maybe too nice to me. But those kinds of comments.
And then I remember being particularly drawn to one individual during recruitment because she was black, and because she was black and I could tell that she enjoyed being there, and so I was very aggressive in the years to come to make sure people knew that this was a space that they could feel welcome. And looking back, maybe I should have had a coup and left and joined a black organization. I think that would have been great. But sometimes you have to try and fix the problems from the inside out, and I definitely tried to.
00:34:54 But there were a lot of people in that organization that would just say things that were problematic. And I think I realized it, too, a lot after the end of my sophomore year, right after Freddie Gray had been murdered in Baltimore and the riots were happening, and people were saying things that weren’t great about the fact that people were rioting. And I was like, no, I think they have a right to be upset and to do this. And there was not a race problem, a racism problem in Baltimore and in the United States. There’s no issue here. I don’t take issue here. But they definitely didn’t understand.
And I started to realize, around that time, that it wasn’t just like the comments about my hair, or the way that I talked, or the music that I liked, it was a greater issue. I started to kind of see how I was different more and more. I mean, I have this very distinct memory, just like of my senior year walking down Jamestown Road. I had finished class somewhere on old campus, was walking up to Ludwell and, you know, college campus, city, anywhere, catcalling is a thing.
00:35:55 So I was walking along and I got catcalled by somebody who was driving in a car. I had my headphones in so I was just ignoring them, walking away, I kept going. And then the guy rolled down his window and stuck his head out and said, “You dumb nigger,” and kept driving. And that was the first time that someone had been so overtly, openly, and aware of their own racism.
Because you don’t say that without thinking about it, because I think even if you think it’s okay to say it in a song or whatever it may be, I think we can all agree that is a base level of bigotry. And so that was weird. It was really weird. It was definitely, I could tell, they probably weren’t students on this campus. I’m not really surprised. This is a pretty conservative area. And, you know, the farther out you get, the more rural it gets, you kind of get that quote, unquote, redneck or whatever.
00:36:57 That was weird, I think, most of all. I think I was definitely very… In a way it was refreshing because I could walk into a room and I can say that experience, and everybody in the room could acknowledge it’s wrong. But when somebody tells me that I am an African goddess, and I say that to a room, I can guarantee not everybody in that room is going to realize why it’s wrong. Or if somebody reaches out and touches my hair without my permission. We’re working on that one. I think we’re slowly more aware, as a society, that you shouldn’t do that.
But yeah, it was strange. It was jarring. But in some ways I was like, well, you know, I have a hard time with people who are micro aggressionally problematic or bigoted, or racist or whatever, but when it’s overt at least you can kind of say, you know, that’s racist and you can kind of walk away from it. The other stuff is a little more complicated, a little more complex. Yeah.
Carmen: And so with the micro aggressions and overt aggressions you experienced on campus, and what you were seeing going on in the broader United States and world, was that kind of what moved you through this, I don’t know, comfort existing in white spaces, as you described it, and through that, and sort of turning a critical eye on what that meant for you, and what that meant for your life and how you existed on William & Mary’s campus? Was that what led to that kind of…?
Mallory: I think so. And I think a lot of it, too, is the tokenism. And I should double back and talk about that, because I think that’s the biggest issue on William & Mary’s campus, is the tokenism.
Mallory: Because I think a lot of the people who have fallen through that trap of oh, I know black people. Oh no, I like rap music. Or these little things. And I think that’s… And I remember I was at a conference this year, and somebody said, you know, well, if you’re going to be a token you might as well own it. And I realized that that was so much of how I, I think, had chosen to switch, flip the switch, yeah.
00:39:00 Flip the switch on what I was going through because I recognized in my sorority that I was a token, and I recognized that I was often the only black person existing in classes. And then I was like, well, I guess if I’m going to do this I might as well milk it for all it’s worth, and so I wasn’t afraid to be the loud person, or the angry person, or the angry black woman, whatever you want to call that stereotype. And so I was okay with it. Because I figured you know what? I’m right. I don’t care if I’m giving them what they want.
And also who else is going to do this? Who else is going to say these things? Because I think I have a unique perspective, one, because I’ve existed in both black and white spaces, perhaps not comfortably, but I’ve been in them my entire life. I’ve been around white people my entire life and I’ve been around black people my entire life, and I know the world is not black and white, but I think it gives me a certain perspective. And also existing in a way that, like, didn’t really make people uncomfortable.
00:39:57 White people aren’t, you know, don’t find me particularly uncomfortable. Maybe now. I’ve got more hardware on my face and lots of tattoos, but like that’s a whole ‘nother story. But I think that has given me a little bit of a good perspective. I might as well use my light skinned-ness to the advantage of the black community.
Carmen: So you’ve brought up intersectionality and identity a lot, and I think those topics are obviously incredibly important, and so I’m wondering—and this is a broad question—but what pieces of your identity have you felt supported in at William & Mary and just generally in your life, and not supported in on the alternative?
Mallory: I think I have been very supported in—well, after coming to William & Mary, I would say, I think I have never felt invalidated when it comes to my blackness. It was a hard thing for me in high school, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. But I definitely think coming here… I think these white people know that if you’re black you kind of probably shouldn’t question black issues, for the most part, at least in the circles that I existed in.
00:41:06 And I think that, you know, with black people that is…we’re here to support each other. There’s only so many of us here. And I never sought out those black faces, and that’s one of my big regrets in college. But I definitely feel like the black friends that I did have and that I do have now have always been incredibly supportive of me, which is something I was always really afraid of.
I was always really afraid of being told that I wasn’t black enough, for so long. And I think some of that has to do with the stereotypes of what is black and what is white. But I also think I just had a constant fear of not fitting in. Yeah. I do, I will take a step back because I do think there are some people who maybe think that because, you know, they take an Africana studies class that they understand the issues that black people face.
00:42:00 I’ve had some friends say some pretty, like, well Mallory, didn’t you know, kind of sentences. And I’m like, ah. I remember taking the Harvard implicit bias test, and it was just a black and white one, and it said that I had a slight favoring towards black people. And I had a friend—not someone I consider a friend now, and I don’t even think I did at the time—turn to me and was like, well, that’s kind of weird. I was like, what do you mean? She was like, well, you know, you grew up really white.
And another friend of mine goes, well, you know, she’s black. And I was like, yeah, I’m black. And it was just kind of one of those weird things where it was like, you know, foot in your mouth, you think you know better. I think definitely, like my identity as a woman has never been challenged. I think being cis, that’s just been a given. Nobody’s going to challenge my womanhood.
00:43:00 I think I’ve been challenged in the fact that people believe that women should be submissive and play into certain stereotypes. I think that’s somewhere I’ve been challenged. And I think also in my sexual identity I have had a really hard time with that. And that’s still evolving. We’re going to redact this part because I still haven’t come out to my parents yet. But hey, when other are watching this I will have, so it’ll be good.
But like I remember my sophomore year I was like, well, I definitely just like—I don’t just like guys, like I knew that. Said okay, I think maybe I’m bi. And I had this weird moment where I came out to everybody on my OA staff before I came out to any of my friends. Not even my OA staff, but the group that I had of freshmen boys I came out to. And I was like, well that’s weird. And then I remember telling one of my friends. I was like, you know, I am bi. And my friend Andrew was like, no Mallory, I think you just really want to fit in. Because all my friends were gay.
00:43:57 I was like, I’m not so sure about that. [Laughs.] That’s interesting. And even like last year I had a friend, and she was like, you know, I was like yeah, I’m definitely like, I’m bi. And she was like, well, have you ever been with a woman? And I was like, no. And she was like, well then you’re not. And I was like, oh, great news, this is wonderful. I feel supported. So it was always just kind of like I didn’t, like in that way I don’t think I necessarily felt supported.
And also like in my sorority, you know, in being in a sorority in general, there are some issues there. There were some people in my organization that were very openly gay and always had been during all of their years. There were people who were kind of more quiet about it, but if you knew them, you knew. And then there were people who still, to this day, it’s not a thing. Which is interesting. There’s definitely a stigma around it, like you shouldn’t date anybody in your sorority because they’re your sister, and that would be incest.
00:44:56 But guess what? This is all culturally constructed, and also stupid. [Laughs.] I find it all very hierarchical and silly. And I like made a—I remember my first class with Tanya I made a documentary about being queer in sororities, and Tanya was like Mallory, are you going to put yourself into this? And I was like no. No-no, no. No. And I was like ha-ha, my professor thinks I’m gay. And I was like oh, but I am. That was weird.
But I also, I think one…in making that I realized that either you had to be really, really comfortable with it, really, really out and really, really comfortable with it or you had to be closeted, and there was no ability to be in between, because people… You had to be okay with being discriminated against. And I was like I think I already have a strike against me here. Like there’s plenty of people here who don’t like black people. I’m going to keep that one to myself.
00:45:55 But I also think that a lot of cultural shifts—this is really tangential—but I think there’s a lot of cultural shifts that have been happening since I started to think about my sexuality in the fact that it’s not just men or women. Those are not the options you get anymore. There’s a whole other gamut. And so to just be queer, period, is totally fine. You don’t have to choose and explain. No, it’s simple, but it’s complex, because people are just people. That’s kind of how I see it.
But I definitely, I think that, like, also this campus is really like if you’re gay you’re growing and hanging out with these people. Like there’s definitely—and those were like the people who were my friends for a lot of it. But it was weird. You had to be in Lambda. And I would always go to the parties that were the Lambda parties. And they were always really interesting because it was like the same kind of just like drunk make out craziness of like, I guess, a fraternity, sorority party. And I was like I don’t know how I feel about this.
00:47:00 Also I didn’t like dating my friends. And there weren’t that many gay people on this campus for me to not date my friends a lot of the time. It was just this whole complicated thing. And I think I was always also worried, too, that if I came out to people and then somewhere down the road realized that oh, that’s not true, that it is just this phase or I am just trying to fit in, that I’m a liar and I’m not being authentic. And that was something that I was really afraid of for a really long time. But like whatever. It’s all evolving. Everything’s changing and growing, like I said. I don’t know. That was very, like, long-winded.
Carmen: No, that was perfectly fine. That’s part of your identity and you should get to speak on that.
Mallory: Yep, that’s true.
Carmen: So there are a couple other questions I have just about things that went on during your time at William & Mary that may have been difficult, but feel free to reflect on them.
00:48:00 So I bring this up because it was actually heavily recorded in “Flat Hats” and news media that there was a shooting at the Crust during your time at William & Mary.
Carmen: I know. And it’s the second time someone’s laughed when I brought that up because I think those years, the individuals who are here, reflect on it, that experience in a certain way. So would you explain how that experience was like for you?
Mallory: I barely remember it. Mostly because I only saw the “Flat Hat” articles. I wasn’t particularly like one… Like it didn’t really affect me very much. It wasn’t on campus and it wasn’t a school shooting. It was a shooting. I hate to say this, but I also grew up around Baltimore. And we’re not just known for murder there. I will say that. But those are headlines that don’t surprise me.
00:48:58 I live in Richmond now, you know. That stuff happens. But I don’t really, I’m not like oh my gosh. Like I don’t think anybody really was. It just was kind of this thing that happened that was kind of strange and jarring, like students lived really nearby, and that’s certainly really strange. But it definitely wasn’t a big…there wasn’t this big butterfly effect on campus, you know?
Carmen: Sure. That was kind of my next question, was if, because of its proximity to campus, there was any sort of reaction campus-wide about the potential of something like that happening on campus.
Mallory: Still an open campus. I think we still will continue to be. Yeah, which is strange, but, you know.
Carmen: Thank you for reflecting on that. I mean, it’s just…you know, I noticed it so I thought I’d bring it up. So another thing. And this is something I bring up in every interview I do because it exists as long as history itself and will continue to, but sexual harassment and assault on campuses. It was discussed, actually, very little in decades past.
00:50:00 But of course during the time you were here, very thoroughly in the “Flat Hat.” Can you describe what the culture was like on campus regarding sexual assault during the time you were here?
Mallory: That’s a really good question. Well, first I want to say I didn’t—and I think you’ll know the name of the woman I’m going to talk about, that this whole concept of date rape kind of started on William & Mary’s campus. And I didn’t know that until maybe last year. I think we’re like many other schools, where we suck at talking about sexual harassment, dealing with sexual harassment and assault, and just what it means culturally for our campus have a really poor grip on what that is. I think it’s alarming, and I think…I know so many of my friends have been sexually assaulted on this campus. There’s no getting around that.
00:50:57 And I think that… I think a lot of times it’s blamed on alcohol and it’s blamed on party culture, and you’ve got people like Thomas Briggs who wrote a nice “Flat Hat” op-ed once about how a party culture is rape culture unless there is no rape culture. And I think that that’s not true. I think it’s definitely gotten better. I was really impressed, I think it was my junior year when I was an OA, Eric Garrison giving a really great presentation during orientation about consent is hard to understand, so let’s simplify it, the whole cookie metaphor. Which I know some people think that it diminishes the importance of consent, but I think it’s a really easy way to think about it, to bring it down small and then amplify instead of trying to think about it on this really large scale. And I really appreciated that.
00:51:53 But that was also the same year that as an OA staff we had a really unfortunate run-in with Dean Gilbert and the way that he talked about sexual assault, comparing it to a wallet. A survivor of sexual assault being compared to a wallet you leave out at a bar or something like that, or saying that somebody who raped someone else is just making a mistake. And statements like that obviously perpetuate rape culture. And I’m sure that Dean Gilbert is very good at his job, but it was very disheartening to hear that.
And I had a big problem—I think a lot of us did. Because, I mean, yeah, so many people I know have been sexually assaulted on this campus. And so I have heard conversations, whether it be in Sadler, or in my sorority house, of people talking very openly about other people’s experiences with sexual assault and how are we going to handle this, as if it’s something that need to be handled, not something that needs to be addressed, or discussed, or the concept of consequences, I don’t know.
00:52:55 I feel like not much has changed. I mean, Title IX happened. That was really hard going from my first year of being an OA, where there was no need to report, and then my second year it being required of me because I’m technically employed by the university. That was tough. Mostly because it felt wrong. But I also understand that it is part of a greater issue we have here, which is the handling of sexual assault.
I also take a lot of issue—and I won’t get too into this—about the fact that in the recent arrests that were made, not on campus, but the arrests made of students, faculty and staff on this campus in relationship to issues of drug abuse and the selling of drugs on campus, it was apparently a reaction to unreported instances of sexual assault and the increase of those unreported incidents of sexual assault because of drug use.
00:53:57 That is very problematic and I think speaks to the larger issue we have here on this campus with sexual assault, yes. I also should say—no, I won’t say this. We’ll talk about that later.
Mallory: I mean, it’s been interesting, yeah. Because I’ve known survivors and I’ve known perpetrators, and that has been very interesting as well. Because it’s not necessarily the people you think it’s going to be. Yeah.
Carmen: Okay. Well, yeah, you and I can talk about that later.
Mallory: I don’t want to accidentally cause a lawsuit to happen. I don’t know.
Carmen: Sure. Makes complete sense. We’re going to transition just a little bit from those difficult experiences, but thank you for reflecting on all of that, because it’s tough. It’s tough.
Carmen: And that is, I mean, way too simplified, but it is tough. So as a student—and we’ve talked about a number of these—you were involved in a number of activities from the beginning.
00:54:56 I mean, you were a member of DGS, you mentioned, sorority. You were an orientation aide, a William & Mary tour guide, worked for Phone-a-thon. Ended up working for the Reeder Media Center, and in the Aroma’s location at Swem Library at a certain point. And you wrote the “Flat Hat” column “Behind Closed Doors.” So am I missing anything, first of all, on that list of what you were involved in?
Mallory: I don’t think so, no.
Carmen: Okay. And so what motivated you to be so engaged in these particular activities?
Mallory: Well, I kind of already touched on Delta Gamma. I think I had a fear of not having friends. I also had had positive experiences. I had friends who brought me to sorority events when I was in high school at William & Mary specifically, and I was like you know, this isn’t bad. And I also had a really positive experience during recruitment. My brother was friends with a lot of Delta Gammas and that was really attractive to me. The down the years issues I had with the organization and forcing myself to pay my dues far in advance so I didn’t deactivate is a whole ‘nother story.
00:55:59 And I also think tour guide and orientation aide were both part of my initial deep love for William & Mary and this kind of like need to be, you know, a typical William & Mary person, and then be like a big name on campus because that’s what I wanted to excel to be. I wanted to be a tour guide and then I wanted to be a senior interviewer. And I wanted to be an OA and I wanted to then be an OAD, a director of orientation aides. And so I had this really wonderfully rose colored idea of William & Mary, and that’s why I got involved in those things.
I quit being a tour guide during my sophomore year, I think mainly because of mental health issues and just taking on too much. And then I ended up not being a tour guide after my junior year, again, I think, because of mental health issues, but also it had gotten hard to talk about William & Mary in such a positive light and not be completely honest about it, like that was tough.
00:56:58 Because I stopped loving it as much as I used to, and I was like if I’m not going to be honest, I really can’t do this. And like I still, I do, I have a lot of love in my heart for William & Mary, I can’t say that I don’t. But I think there’s kind of this pressure when you’re speaking on behalf of William & Mary to talk about it in this very specific kind of way, and I wasn’t willing to do that.
And then “Behind Closed Doors.” Okay, the job stuff, I just needed to get a job. I think we can be clear on that. I needed money desperately. But “Behind Closed Doors,” it happened accidentally. I think I was like… Okay. My freshman year I had this great boyfriend from my high school and I was like I’m going to marry him. Then we broke up, as people usually do with their high school boyfriends when they start college.
00:57:57 And I went through what I call my slut phase. This is the greater context. It will make sense later. And I also found it very—which I found very empowering at the time—and then I also thought it was very fun to talk about sex. One, because it’s fun. Two, because sometimes it makes people a little uncomfortable, and I kind of found that funny. And I also, like I’m loud, I have opinions.
And so I found out that they needed another person for “Behind Closed Doors,” and I happened to know one of the people who was editing for variety. Her name is Devon Ivie. She now does amazing things in New York, and is like an incredible editor. And here I am, still at William & Mary, but whatever. And she was roommates with my big. And so I remember going into my big’s room and they were like pre-gaming for a party, and I was like Devon, I want to write for “Behind Closed Doors,” and she was like okay, come into the office on Monday. I was like, cool. And I just started it, like I just started doing it.
00:58:58 And it was really nice. It was like a good outlet to have, I think, because I think there’s a lot of issues…there were a lot of things I wanted to say and I didn’t know where the venue was to say them. I think now I just go on Twitter and I tweet about it or I yell at my friends about it. But then I was like I need a space to kind of flesh these ideas out.
And they can be like, you know, it’s like just everything. I wrote silly articles about sharing a twin XL bed with a partner. But then there was a need to have these more serious conversations about the fetishization in sexual relationships and kind of this issue that we have on this campus of hookup culture being so, I don’t know, kind of…it’s not healthy, there’s not communication, it’s not good, and stuff like that. So even as my slut phase ended, I still kind of felt like these were important conversations to have, yeah.
Carmen: So it sounds like—and correct me if I’m wrong—that you chose your topics—and I have a list of different topics here that I can go off of—but that you chose them based on maybe some personal experience, but also on kind of what you were seeing within the campus culture at large.
Mallory: Yes, definitely.
Carmen: Well, are there any particular articles specifically that stand out to you or you will always be super proud of?
Mallory: There were some, I think, that were really important. And I remember them getting a lot of attention. Talking about…I think the one about fetishes did fairly well. And I remember certain ones getting a lot of shares, and I really felt like I was influencing people, and that felt really, really good.
Carmen: I think there was one also about exoticization.
Mallory: Yes. Oh, god. Yeah. Because I think that’s an issue of, you know, if you’re a person of color and you’re dating somebody who’s white, because, I mean, in this day and age people think they can say whatever they want on Tinder, and then you get a lot of comments like that.
01:00:56 And yeah, it was all brought about because my friend had had this horrible experience with some guy telling her that she was hitting a quota, or that she was only smart because she was Asian. And it was really strange. And first of all, we hunted him down and we all emailed his employer, which I think is what everybody should do when they experience such outrageous remarks on the Internet. Because they should have real life implications, not because we’re evil and vindictive, but because your actions should have consequences.
But yeah, stuff like that because it’s just…yeah, inspired by real events because the culture of William & Mary is such that it is just incredibly… People can be really awful. And especially in the dating world it can get really bad.
Carmen: Do you reflect on writing that column as a positive experience?
Mallory: Yeah. I think so. I think one, it was fun. And I really like writing. And I for a while thought that maybe my career would kind of move into me being a sex educator or doing something with sex positivity and stuff like that.
01:02:02 I mean, those are causes that I definitely believe in so incredibly still today. And I just think it’s funny. I think people take sex way too seriously. And it should be seriously in some regards, but in others there’s room for joking, and laughter, and I enjoyed being able to do that. That was really fun.
Carmen: Great. Well, thank you for reflecting on that as well. And I, before we kind of transition, there was something you’ve brought up a couple times, and I do not want to it to go off, because it’s incredibly important, and that is the topic of mental health and your journey of maybe self-discovery or getting things addressed even potentially through negative situations on campus and how you saw that addressed, or what resources you saw available to you on William & Mary’s campus.
Mallory: Yeah. I think I am lucky because once I finally did choose to seek help I had an incredibly positive experience. I’ll talk about that. I’ve had a very positive experience with the counseling center, which I think is a place where a lot of people have negative experiences.
01:03:04 I also think I kind of knew my resources available to me, so when I was presented with something that was not what I knew I could get I pushed back. I remember walking in and being like, I need to see a counselor. And they were like, oh, it’s like a two month waiting list. And I was like no, I think there’s on call people right now. And they were like, yeah, you’re right, we’ll get you to see someone.
And then I got hooked up, I got a therapist. I went to my general practitioner back at home and was like I need meds. And she was like great, you’ve always had anxiety. And I was like, wow, thanks for telling me. But I have. I think a lot of issues of anxiety and depression, I think a lot of people, at least in my experience, it’s been that that’s kind of how you assume everybody else is living, and because everyone is living with these crutches or these spoons, or whatever you want to call it, that since they can get through okay you can get through okay.
01:03:59 And I think definitely there is this nature in William & Mary to be over involved. Like yesterday I was talking to somebody and I said oh, I wasn’t involved in that much. And she was like, oh, why did you say that? I was like because there’s this expectation to be over involved, and over invested. And I think that breeds a poor environment and culture around mental health. I think the school—and I think that’s a no-brainer. I think everyone knows it, that this school has an issue with mental health.
I don’t like this idea that we’re a suicide school. I think that maybe isn’t necessarily true. I think we just have a deep issue with how we deal with self-care and mental health, and how we, as Kelly Crace loves to say, we live in a very fear-based way. And I think too, I think it’s important to bring up the issues that happen in the counseling center and the kind of issues around that, but I also think it certainly discouraged me from seeking that help earlier, because I didn’t think those options were available to me.
01:04:53 And so I think that’s a whole ‘nother part of it, too, that there’s something very good about the fact that we’re finally starting to especially talk about issues of mental health, and people are being much more open, I’ve seen, about taking time off or their own struggles. But I also think that unless that’s done very intentionally and carefully that you can have this whole negative side effect, and that we’re all breathing this negativity, and we’re getting back into that issue of the bragging about your mental health issues, which is, you know, that people…
And like I totally fell into this. I think it’s really easy to, of being like oh, I slept four hours last night, like a pulled an all-nighter, or I haven’t slept, I had like ten cups of coffee today, this talking about how much you’re struggling. And so I think that’s also another…it’s important to talk about and it’s important to talk about in an intentional way, too.
01:05:51 But I definitely…I will say I found out my brother went to the counseling center because he was in a counseling center video, and I saw it when I was in OA, and I was like oh, my god, my brother went to the counseling center? I was like oh, well then I can go now, too. Which is funny. And then I told my mom about it. My mom was like, is he okay? I was like, Mom, this was years ago, he’s fine.
But yeah, I think it’s like totally an issue. I mean, like so many students have committed suicide while I have been here. A professor committed suicide while I was a student here. We’re talking about, I think, a greater issue, but I also think that there’s a lot of pressure at the school to fit within a certain box.
I mean, I’ve seen professors who, you know, if there’s an issue having to do with mental health they won’t see that as a valid excuse because they think it is simply an excuse. Which I think was always, again, my fear, because I don’t think, you know, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning doesn’t seem like a valid excuse to not live your life, because you just get up, just frickin’ get out of bed.
01:07:00 But it’s not that easy. It’s definitely not that easy. So yeah. It’s a whole thing. It’s a whole issue. And I think we’re getting better. Yeah.
Carmen: Well, thank you for reflecting some on that. So one more question before we transition to your time post William & Mary, which has not been that long, but you still have packed a lot during that time. And this question is—and you’ve touched on this a bit talking about the election in particular—but I’m wondering how you saw other nationwide or worldwide sociopolitical issues play out on campus.
This could be same sex marriage being legalized and upheld in Virginia, this could be the shootings in Orland, terrorist attacks around the globe, the election of Donald Trump, increased accounts of police brutality and killings of black men specifically, but persons of color largely, all of those things. How did you see those, or did you see those play out on campus?
Mallory: I think I definitely saw issues of police brutality play out on campus. Mostly…I think one of the biggest ways I see it play out is when it doesn’t. Because I always have found it very jarring when there are large political things taking place and people are still able to live their lives as if nothing has happened. I think that’s very strange.
But I definitely have a memory of being in the sorority house and watching the news coverage of the Freddie Gray riots and having people with very specific reactions, and their reactions being fear-based and also just a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of what these people were doing, and also just the validity of the protestors’ and the rioters’ anger. I don’t think people necessarily understood that.
I think definitely, and obviously the election. Because I remember going to classes that day, and that was weird. That was really, really weird. And like professors just not saying anything. I had a professor who I knew was gay who didn’t say a word, and I was so confused. It’s like what in the world? Are you not going to say anything?
01:09:00 Like our world has basically just like shattered into a million pieces and you’re not going to say anything? And that was just so incredible. Yeah. I definitely, I think more so than anything I’ve seen the way that people have not reacted, necessarily, if that makes sense.
Carmen: It does.
Mallory: And I think that also has to do a lot with the fact that the way that William & Mary is so insular, people have a hard time looking outwards, because what’s in front of them seems so life-changing, whether it’s like a Blackboard post or a final paper, people are like this is everything. When there are like much, I guess, I think—it’s all in perspective, of course—but there are very important things happening outside that small sphere. I wasn’t a student when Charlottesville happened, but I would be very curious of the experiences of students after that, because there were a lot of William & Mary students that were at that event.
01:10:00 Yeah, there’s nothing else in particular. I know after large events there’s always been candlelight vigils and events like that. But I definitely, it’s more of those campus events that shape people more than anything.
Mallory: Yeah, because that insular perfect world that they’ve kind of created, a perfect world, is shattered in some way. That’s, I think, when people really get shook, shooken, shaken awake.
Carmen: That’s a really interesting and challenging way to look at that, but I think that’s helpful. I think that’s helpful for individuals to hear. So we’re transitioning now. And in the year since you have graduated—it’s almost a year. That is astounding.
Mallory: Oh, my god, yeah.
Carmen: Yeah, we’re like right on a year.
Mallory: That’s terrifying.
Carmen: In the year since you have graduated from William & Mary, how have you seen your William & Mary education play out in your life so far?
Mallory: Well, I work for William & Mary.
Carmen: That is a thing.
Mallory: [Laughs.] So it’s been weird. It’s really funny. I think that, like, I don’t think about it much until I have to say that that’s where I went to school and people are like, ohhh. And I’m like okay, calm down, I was a film major. But I definitely kind of, it’s interesting. People really hold William & Mary on a pedestal. Hey, I’m benefiting from it so I’m not going to complain about that.
I definitely think I’ve gotten a bit more perspective. I definitely have some very tangible regrets about my four years, things I didn’t do, things I should have done. So there’s that. But I also think being a part of the workforce at William & Mary has been really interesting because it is, in some ways, very similar to the culture of the student body, and I think in other ways it’s very different. Things move a lot slower. That was really hard for me to learn.
01:12:00 I mean, like things I think probably move at what others would call a normal pace. And I was not used to that, and I was really uncomfortable at first, and it was really, really hard to like not just speed through things, get things done, just go, go, go, and to just like calm down and be like it’s okay to not finish a project in a day or a week or whatever.
I think it’s been really nice because I think especially within Special Collections I am surrounded by people who…like there are tangible examples of injustice in Special Collections, so it’s not hard to argue them. And so you’re around people who understand the problems and understand that there are greater issues at play here. I just remember like after, I think it was in Durham or Raleigh, the monuments coming down—
Mallory: —and talking to my coworkers about that, and the way that they talked about it, it’s like they were like, did you see that guy like dancing on with his guitar? And they were so excited about it.
01:13:00 And I was like, oh, I thought this was going to be a weird week for me, but I feel supported. That’s strange. And just to be around people who are like, yo, did you know this guy was racist? Or like yeah, Ludwell Johnson, racist. John Millington electrocuted black people. You know, like people are out here being like this is what’s really going on. There’s no rose- colored glasses.
Because I think William & Mary has a reputation to uphold, and so they like to skirt over the harder truths. But I’m in a space where people are not afraid to talk very freely about the hard truths, which are my favorite parts of history, are the bad ones, because they speak a lot to society. But anyway, I digress.
Carmen: No, that’s great. And I’m wondering, actually, if you can talk a little bit more about what your experience being a Mosaic Fellow has been. So you talked a bit about that at the beginning. You actually said that you struggled there at the beginning, you did not enjoy it, but it’s ebbed and flowed throughout your time. So will you talk just about that experience for a bit?
Mallory: Sure. I think it was hard being back here. I think that was the toughest part. I think it was hard because, I mean, it was the first year of the program, it didn’t have much structure. I didn’t really know what my place was. And everything was just kind of like this go with the flow kind of thing, and I didn’t like it at all. It was really uncomfortable.
And I also had trouble, and I didn’t realize this—it was my therapist who pointed it out to me—that I wasn’t emotionally investing myself in the work that I was doing. I was kind of looking at it from this very distant, noncommittal way. And she was like you need to find a way to be engaged.
And I think a lot of my initial apprehension came from the fact that I was worried about this 50th year. I was worried about what it meant. I was unconvinced that the college really cared about black people to spend an entire year actually celebrating them and not just themselves.
01:14:57 I mean, because this is an institution that was built on the backs of slaves and that wasn’t acknowledged until 2009, and there was no apology made until last week. So like I had every reason to feel that way. Especially after this past year and the comments made by President Reveley when he met with students, and the things that my peers experienced on this campus. I was really, really doubtful.
I think it all kind of changed at the unveiling ceremony for the 50th. I think I was like, oh. Like there is a true commitment here, like people are really getting it. I think the monologue that was given after the mural was unveiled, I think that really solidified it. Because I was like, oh, she’s being real. Like this woman was, you know, not holding back. And I was like, well, if she’s allowed to do that, then I think we’re good here.
01:16:00 I think I can feel good about my exhibit. I can feel good about the things I’m putting forth. Because before I was really afraid that my working on this exhibit for the 50th was just another example of sheer tokenism, basically saying that—and also it was going to be censored. And by that I mean that it was going to be a happier version of the history.
Carmen: Yeah, watered down.
Mallory: Yes. But then I realized that I could do and say what I wanted with it, and that it, you know, there’s a fine line between tokenism and diversity and inclusion, and I might have thought that we were thumbing that line, but I’m just going to accept that that’s diversity and inclusion because it’s true, a black person should be telling the story of black people. I would agree with that. So I think I leaned in a little bit more and found that I enjoy what I do.
01:17:00 And especially being able to uncover that uncomfortable stuff, because that’s my favorite.
Carmen: Sure. Do you have any other reflections on the Mosaic program as a whole and your experience being a Mosaic Fellow, which you were for the past year, and a great one.
Mallory: Oh, thank you.
Carmen: Do you have any other reflections on that experience?
Mallory: Well, things are still changing. I have two, three more months left. I won’t say that I owe this college a lot, but I do owe William & Mary Libraries a lot. They’ve given me a lot of space to do really great things and learn a lot. And explore grad school. They’ve given me so many opportunities. But I also think that perhaps it being the first year, or just I think I’ve learned that there’s certainly a disconnect between how people define diversity, inclusion and equity on a generational level.
01:18:02 And I don’t say that to be ageist and to say that old people don’t get it, because I don’t think that’s true. But I think that… I will say that time is not linear in the way that progressiveness is not linear, and we do not make progress in a linear way. So I think that the way that I view injustice has changed and evolved with the times, and how somebody older than me may see injustice is a reflection of their experience. And I think also we’re dealing with a time when people are really afraid to be called out and be told that they are wrong, or told that what they have said is hurtful.
01:18:56 You can say a racist thing and not be a racist. That’s very true. You can be a racist and not know it, not think that you are. And I think people are really afraid of that. I mean, I have said many problematic things in my day. But I’ve changed, I have evolved, and I have learned from what others have told me. And I think that’s very important, especially if you’re dealing with those three lovely words of diversity, inclusion and equity.
And I think that that is one of the things that I have learned, is that there are differences in how people define those words and there are challenges in addressing those problems. And that also—I think I’ve always known this, but I think this year has definitely affirmed the fact that there is always opportunity to grow and learn, no matter how old you are. I think that has been… Like those are the lessons I didn’t think I was going to learn from this. I thought I was going to learn about cataloguing and rare books. But like no, I learned about how to be a better person, which is good.
Mallory: So yeah.
Mallory: It’s been a weird year.
Carmen: Yeah. And it’s still going. Three more months you said.
Mallory: Yep, three whole months.
Carmen: So we’re kind of getting to the end of it here, and I know our time is running out, but I have a couple more questions, and I’m going to open it up to you. As we’ve mentioned, we’re in the midst of a celebration. We’re coming to the end of it as well, the official year for the 50th anniversary of African Americans in residence at the college. Considering the purpose behind the celebration, what do you believe to be the value of diversity and inclusion on campus and more broadly?
Mallory: Well, I’ve watched a lot of these oral histories, so I’m thinking about what Michael Powell said, and what Warren Buck has said. But I really do like what Michael Powell said. We’ll kind of go along the lines of what he said, is that if you’re not dealing with these multiple perspectives, you’re not seeing the world from all of these different viewpoints and getting that liberal arts education that is truly diverse, your viewpoint is shallow, and it’s narrow, and it’s not comprehensive, and you’re maybe not as intelligent as you may think you are.
01:21:11 I also, I really like what, I think her name is Lena Waithe. She recently was on the cover of “Vogue.” She’s a lovely queer black woman of color. And she said that diversity and inclusion is being able to look into a room and say that everybody’s present. And I think unless everybody’s present you can’t include everybody.
And I think why is it important to include everybody? Because everybody knows what it feels like to be excluded. Whether you are five years old and on a playground and nobody wants to play tag with you or your voice is not being heard in a room of executives, it doesn’t matter where you’re at, that feeling of being excluded is no good.
01:21:59 And the solution to that is making sure that everyone is included. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I think diversity and inclusion are difficult topics, but I think when you get down to them it’s simple. It’s about empathy and understanding each other, and treating other people with kindness and compassion and openness, and being willing to be silent while others speak. I don’t think that answered your question.
Carmen: No, it actually did quite well.
Mallory: Oh, okay, cool.
Carmen: That was a great answer. Thank you. And my next question is actually quite similar. As we’re coming to the end of this anniversary year, we’re kicking off 100 years of coeducation at the college. So can you speak a little bit about the value and contribution of women at William & Mary and more broadly?
Mallory: Well… [Sighs.] I’m trying to think of the best way to phrase. I think about the value and the contribution of African Americans so much I don’t think I’ve really thought so much about women. I think black women are great, but let me think about it more.
01:23:00 I can’t remember who it was that said this, but there’s that quote that if you want someone to say something, ask a man, if you want someone to do something, ask a woman. And I think about that a lot. I think women are incredibly powerful, more powerful than they think because we have been led to believe that we are not.
But, I mean, just in the concept that a woman can find a work-life balance between being a mother, which is a full-time job, being a homemaker, full-time job, and having an actual out of the house full-time job is incredible to me. And I think that we’re really coming to a point—there was that “New York Times” article that I mentioned to you, fields that women are outnumbered by men whose first name is John, and just the ridiculousness of that.
01:24:02 Women have done so much, not just for this country, not just for this institution, and not just for the state of Virginia. So much for the world. I mean, I could go on for hours about this. And I know you know I would. But, like, gosh. Truly just the concept of woman is just incredibly inspirational. I can’t speak to any true examples, but damn. [Laughs.]
Carmen: [Laughs.] That says it all. So at this point I’ve asked you a ton of questions, and we’ve covered all sorts of topics, and now I want to open it up to you. If there’s anything I haven’t asked you that you thought I would, if there’s anything specifically you’d like to talk about that we haven’t, if you want to reflect on changes you have seen or would like to see at William & Mary, anything at all, this is your time.
Mallory: There was one thing I wanted to add to the woman thing.
Mallory: I hope this year includes non-cis women. I think we’re coming to a very important time for issues of gender. But I think it’s an important thing for this college to consider and I think it’s an important thing for society to consider. We just had our first Virginia representative who’s a trans woman elected this past November. A great time. But I think it’s an important thing to speak about and speak on. And I think it’s something that I personally think this school is probably afraid of addressing.
And we just had like non same sex housing be an option, which is just ridiculous. I mean, like I visited schools when I was looking at colleges that it had always just been an option. And I think this school and a lot of other schools, I mean, like the United States in general has a lot of issues with the gender binary and thinking that, like…because we like to organize things.
01:26:01 And so if we’re going to organize things, let’s organize them by gender. That makes sense. That feels good. Okay, great, we’re organized. It’s messed up. And there’s issues there. Yeah. I’m really interested to see… I would be really happy if we kind of began as an institution to break down this pedestal that we have put ourselves on as an institution.
Yeah, we’re the alma mater of the nation, but we’re also allowed to change, to reevaluate our tradition. Because as a wise woman of a friend of mine told me in the documentary I made, tradition for the sake of tradition is bullshit. And if your traditions are problematic, like Kappa Alpha order and their Confederate uniform, it needs to be adjusted, and so we need to adjust and change.
01:27:00 And I think there’s a lot to be said about approachability and that willingness to adapt and be dynamic. And I’d really like to see that out of this institution. Yeah. I don’t think I have much more to say.
Carmen: Anything else. This is totally your moment.
Mallory: I said some wildly inappropriate things, so I think we’re good.
Carmen: No, it’s been wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sitting down.
Mallory: Of course.
Carmen: I think so much of this is going to be really helpful, and it was just great to hear, so thank you again for participating.
Mallory: Of course, yeah.
01:27:25 [End of recording.]
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