Yvonne Smith-Jones, Class of 1987, 1993, 1997
Yvonne Smith-Jones arrived at William & Mary in 1985, earning a Master of Arts of Education, an Education Specialist Degree, and a Doctorate of Education by 1997.
After graduating with her Ed.D. Smith-Jones worked at Hopewell City Public Schools for over 22 years, contributed to special projects with VCU and ODU, and has served on the School of Education Development Board at William & Mary. She has also been involved with the Hulon Willis Association. Yvonne currently works as an Educational Consultant through Highly Effective Services, Inc.
In her interview, Smith-Jones expresses that, from a young age, she intuitively felt that she would, one day, attend William & Mary. Though she recalls the graduate experience as being largely separate from that of undergraduates, like others, she recalls the impactful presence of Dean Carroll Hardy and holds fond memories of going to Swem Library and basketball games. In her professional life, Smith-Jones notes connections to William & Mary, from serving on the School of Education Board to witnessing one of her students, Eboni Brown, come to William & Mary and become the first female African American president of the Student Assembly.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Yvonne Smith-Jones
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Date: August 25, 2017 Duration: 00:59:46
Carmen: My name is Carmen Bolt, the oral historian at William & Mary. It is currently around 2:00 p.m. on August 25, 2017. I’m sitting in the Alumni House with Yvonne Smith Jones. So can you start by telling me the date and place of your birth?
Yvonne: I was born in Charles City County, Virginia on November the 5th, 1956, so I guess I’m a Baby Boomer.
Carmen: Right. And what years did you go for, or work for, or were on William & Mary’s campus?
Yvonne: Okay, I was here on 1987, ’93 and ’97.
Carmen: So we’ll backtrack a little bit before jumping into your time at William & Mary. Could you tell me about where and how you were raised, and tell me a little bit about your family?
Yvonne: Okay, good. I am a product of the historical Charles City County, and we kind of claim that because we were the home of two presidents, Benjamin Harrison and John Tyler.
00:01:04 Basically, because it is a rural area, we only had one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. What’s so unique about that is that we are one county with three cultures, so we have the Native Americans, the African Americans and the Caucasians, and that is the diversity that I went to school with.
Carmen: Oh, wow. And what was the interaction between these three different cultures?
Yvonne: Oh, we had wonderful interaction during the time that I was in high school because we…Charles City is very unique. It’s a lot of brown people in Charles City, so we were all accustomed to seeing brown people. It didn’t make a difference who we were. So we blend very well. We had a few outliers, but other than that, everything was well.
Carmen: Great. So what about your parents? What did they do?
Yvonne: My father was in the Navy, and he worked in Yorktown at the Naval Weapons Station. He worked with the missiles. My mom did days work here in Williamsburg, and then she became a home healthcare provider. When my brothers and sisters went to school my mom didn’t work. She started to work the year that I went to school, so yeah.
Carmen: And you said you have brothers and sisters.
Yvonne: Have brothers and sisters.
Carmen: So where do you fall in that?
Yvonne: I am the youngest of four.
Carmen: Okay, great. So when did you start thinking about going to college? Was that something that was ingrained from the beginning or something you really started to think about later?
Yvonne: Okay, so my father is from nine, and out of the nine all of the boys went to the Navy, the Air Force or the Army, but my father wanted to go to college and everything, but he couldn’t, so therefore he had to go to the military.
00:03:02 And all the girls, believe it or not, they were either beauticians or they taught school, they went to college. And so therefore, my aunt taught school in New York, and she kind of motivated all of us in the family to gravitate towards that.
But before that my uncle had been—my great uncle had been chairman of the Charles City School Board for years, so therefore I was around a lot of people who were educators. And I just felt early on that I had a gift to teach. I love to talk, so therefore I thought I had a gift to teach, that I could teach someone else because I thought I knew so much.
Carmen: So that’s what got you into kind of the education sector. So what made you choose William & Mary then?
Yvonne: Okay, I had graduated from high school and went to Norfolk State University. And that was a wonderful experience for me, because being in a rural area, that was my first encounter to live with a group of young people the same age. But each summer I had gone to New York City. Every summer we went to New York City, so that’s where I learned a variety of things—Chinese handball, double Dutch and those kinds of things.
But going to Norfolk State really prepared me to understand what learning and education is all about and how that’s going to take me to the next level and lead to a career path. So I did that, and it was just phenomenal. And when I graduated, I had so many people who wanted me to come to work for them, and I was like, oh, this is neat. So getting that first teaching position, I realized that learning did not stop at the four year institution.
00:04:56 And recalling when I was a young girl, I would, with my parents, come into Williamsburg, and I would see these massive buildings, and the manicured landscape, and I would see all these people going in and out of these buildings, and I always wondered, when I was very young, who attended those schools and what was that all about, and would I ever be afforded an opportunity to go to William & Mary.
So I kind of, no matter what I did, I had somewhere in my hippocampus, maybe, I had something just lurking there telling me that one day I would go to that school where we passed through when we were going to get goods and services for my family, but we really didn’t go into it. So it was something there that just kind of kept my vision on that particular buildings, those buildings. So I was pretty much interested in that.
Carmen: So it stayed there in the back of your mind, and when you decided to go to graduate school, this is where you chose to go.
Carmen: So can you tell me that process of deciding to go to graduate school?
Yvonne: Okay. So I’m teaching, and when I was at Norfolk State, gifted education had just come to the surface, and I’d had two classes, and they kept telling us, said this is the cutting edge, everybody is going to want people who have had experience in this. So I took those classes. And then once I started teaching, I fell in love with that population of kids, so I decided— you could go to William & Mary, you could take classes without actually getting into a program, so I did that.
And being on campus, I fell in love with the campus. And I was so proud because I did well on that first class, and I said oh, I can do this. So I decided to apply, and I got accepted to come to William & Mary to get my master’s. And I was just blown away because I’m like now I am one of those people that you see going inside of those buildings as you go through Williamsburg.
Carmen: Sure, yeah. It’s wild. You saw that when you were younger and then you ended up on the campus. So can you tell me those first thoughts, or what it felt like, or smelled like, or looked like when you finally were on campus and you got to first take a class here?
Yvonne: Well, the first classes being in Jones Hall, so, you know, I walked in there. And there’s this wow, I look at it and there was like an old building, and they had old furniture and what have you, and I was like oh, I was kind of disappointed looking at the physical layout.
But what really just marveled me and amazed me was the professors and how much they had to offer, and how they challenged our thinking and really took us to a level of deep thinking, that it wasn’t about my opinion anymore, it was about what the authors are saying, what the researchers are saying, and it’s just reading and finding this wealth of knowledge, and being able to put those kinds of things in perspective in my classroom when I went back to school. So that was just something to me that was like, you know, it goes from research to practice. These things really work. So it convinced me early on.
Carmen: Wonderful. Do you remember the names of any professors?
Yvonne: Oh, yes. Oh, yes I do. Dr. [Mademan], Dr. [Thelan], Dr. Bullock, Dr. [Haning]. Just, you know, they were some of the ones who I had a lot of coursework with, but of course Dean Hardy—and I’ll tell you, if you ask me a question about Dean Hardy and my relationship with her, and how I got to know her—but Dr. [Patton]. All of these people were there for me when I got to William & Mary.
But Dr. Bullock was the one that stands out because he required excellence, and he had very high expectations. And he taught school law, and he was very proficient in that area. And we all feared him because he expected for us to have that caliber of thinking, and that what we would read that we would actually understand and be able to transfer it and to apply it.
00:09:02 And we weren’t always there. So we all knew, in his class, that we had to work very hard, and he had those high expectations of us. We were definitely afraid of him. So one day he called me after class and he says I want to speak with you. And I said, yes, sir. And I went up and he says, well, I’m going to nominate you for an award, and he says if you get accepted by the state that it will help you with your tuition.
He nominated me for a state award, and I received that, and I was able to get my education specialist and my doctorate paid by those funds. And I was afraid of him. And then he called me at home one day and he said, well, you know, I always give a scholarship in the name of my son, and he said I want to come to Charles City and give that scholarship to a Native American. He said would you meet me there? I said sure I would.
00:10:00 So at Charles City High School graduation I sat with the great Dr. Bullock, and felt very proud and honored to do that. So yes, we had some very outstanding and renowned professors who were here on campus for us.
Carmen: Sure, it sounds like it. And even though he was maybe someone to be feared, it sounds like he thought of you as a high achieving student and someone who was worthy of receiving that scholarship.
Yvonne: Mm-hmm. He demanded excellence. He wanted us to make sure that whatever we embarked upon, it was to the best of our ability, but it was 100%. And that was, in itself, inspiring, it was motivating, and it allowed us to look at our inner self and to dig deeper.
Carmen: Great. So I was going to ask you about your mentors or any advisors you had, and I think this would be a great moment to bring back up Dean Carroll Hardy.
Yvonne: Yes. My first encounter with her was strange because there was a deaconess in my church who worked here on the campus, and she worked in the president’s house. And we were having women’s day at our church, and she said to me that she had asked Dr. Carroll Hardy to come to speak to the women during that particular program. And I was able to go with her. She asked if I would come with her to pick her up on campus, and I did. And we had this wonderful conversation from Williamsburg to Charles City County.
And that was my connector. I got connected with her and I made it my point that I would, you know, each month I would try to either come by her office and see her or just try to do something to connect with her. She was very inspiring. She was very motivating. She was powerful. She wanted us to know that the campus was open to everyone and that we were the ones who had to make diversity and inclusiveness happen, it just wasn’t something that people would do, and that if you would open up and have conversations with people, and get to know people, and extend ourselves, that, you know, we would be a better person. So, I mean, she was a phenomenal woman.
Carmen: It sounds like it. Do you mind expanding on some of the ways she encouraged you to go out and make those connections and make the school more diverse? Was it organized or…?
Yvonne: Okay, she was telling us—it was kind of informal—and she would tell us things like you need to volunteer, to get in groups and interact with your groups and what have you. You need to make sure that you ask questions and that you get out of your comfort zone and you learn about the culture of other people, and you ask questions, and you go to some of their functions, and that you understand it’s not always, people are not going to always give you everything. I mean, you have to be the person to be self-motivated, self-determined, and have that self-esteem, and feel good about yourself to want to know about others.
00:13:02 So she was an advocate of that, and she pushed everybody on campus to that level of excelling, too. She was one of those, you know, having high expectations and making sure that you were the one, you need to leave your footprints. Nobody’s going to do that for you. So it was good having that type of person on campus, knowing that if we needed to have her for any situation, we could go to her.
Carmen: And a good person to have in your corner.
Carmen: So are there any other mentors or advisors or individuals that you recall being prominent figures while you were here?
Yvonne: Well, strange because Dr. [Roselle], who runs CERN, who’s now retired—she just retired last year—she worked in Charles City County, and she worked with my sister, and she asked if I could do some work for her, being that she had this university partnership with the K-12 schools.
00:14:01 And I said yes, and I got to meet her. But she really opened so many doors for me that I not only would come down and do workshops and work with her in making CERN open to all the K-12 organizations in the state, but just to be able to travel out of the country meeting renowned scholarly authors. It was amazing, just going to some of the countries and having those conversations on those campuses.
She opened doors for me to a whole ‘nother global perspective that I hadn’t had. I mean, I traveled some before then as far as going with my husband to Hawaii when he’d work. He goes there three times a year. So I would do those kinds of things. But I really hadn’t thought about going out of the country that much until I met her, and then she opened that up. And then it was open, the gates were open, and I began to travel extensively.
Carmen: It sounds like a fantastic opportunity.
Carmen: And learning different techniques from individuals all over the world. So I want to talk a little bit about you being a graduate student here at William & Mary. So this was before the School of Education was off site or in its own space, so you were on campus. What was the interaction between undergraduate students and graduate students? Was there a lot of interaction or did you exist in kind of your own spheres?
Yvonne: From my lens, it was separate. We were the people coming in from the outside and they were the people who were here, so therefore it wasn’t a whole lot of interaction. And I didn’t realize it, but this was like…so I started maybe in ’83 or what have you, and it’s kind of, people are just beginning to get together.
00:15:53 I really didn’t think, and I hadn’t honed in a lot about integration because I went to a segregated elementary school, but an integrated high school, and then just being exposed, I really didn’t get into a whole lot of feeling different when I would come to the university, although some classes I would have like 30, 40 people and I’d be the only African American in that particular class.
And it really didn’t bother me because I knew I was there for a purpose, so I was well defined, I had good self-esteem. I had this little thing running around my brain that I can do just about what anyone else can do, given the opportunities, so I was always there.
And sometimes I’d wonder and I said now why didn’t I think about maybe being uncomfortable or maybe thinking that someone would do something to me? And that never entered my mind during the time I was doing those kinds of things. And I wondered why now, because that was something that I just didn’t focus on.
Carmen: It sounds like you were very honed in on what you were doing for education purposes.
Yvonne: Yes, yes.
Carmen: And potentially maybe having graduate students and undergraduate students in different spheres, maybe that, it was just a different experience. So because of that separation I imagine that graduate students weren’t involved, necessarily, in the same organizations as undergraduate students either.
Yvonne: No. So when we had our cohorts, we really became a part of our cohorts. And many of us as graduate students, we had other jobs, so we were connected with that. But I will say this, that the campus just afforded everyone an opportunity to be exposed to so many different people. They had lots of speakers, los of forums and things like that on campus, so we were able to meet so many people. And that is a plus, I think, even today.
00:17:56 When you are a part of the William & Mary community, you can come on campus and you can take advantage of so many things. And many of these things are free to the public, so it has really opened its doors to the community and to the larger community, so that has been just wonderful.
Carmen: Sure. So what sort of organizations or things did you get involved in when you were here?
Yvonne: Okay, so we didn’t have the active graduate association that we have now in the School of Education, but knowing that there were several people that I made connections with, and as they elevated themselves and came back as professors in the School of Education it was just great to see those people doing those kinds of things. I was able to come into the School of Education and CERN and I served a part of CERN, first working part-time and then doing some contract work, which I still do today for the university partnership.
00:19:01 But I’ve also volunteered and I served on the board. So I served on their board. And that was a very rich experience for me to be on the board for the School of Education because I learned a lot about gift giving and giving back, giving back in time, giving back in talent, and just being able to let people know that William & Mary is really a place where you can come and you can take advantage of all the opportunities, and you’re the one to decide how much and how far and what have you. But it is open to everyone, and I don’t think a lot of people know that.
So my thing on the board was to make sure that diversity and inclusiveness was something that we really, in our mission statements and our vision, that became pronounced to let people know we accept people and we realize that education is an index in which it equalizes and brings equity to most situations.
Carmen: I do want to talk more about the ways you’ve been involved since you left William & Mary, but before I do that, I have a couple more questions about your time here. I wanted to ask, before this next question, and getting kind of involved in this, I wanted to ask if you had any African American professors during your time here.
Yvonne: As far as—no. No African American professors. Dr. [Patton] was here, but I didn’t have any courses from him at that particular time. But no African American professors. I did have one woman, one female, but it was basically dominated with white males and what have you. And I guess not focusing a whole lot on that because my first school that I taught school in New Kent County, and so again, New Kent was a place that was predominantly Caucasian.
00:21:03 So I was immersed with a lot of Caucasian people. So I don’t think that I hit a brick wall or anything, or I didn’t, I probably didn’t expect to see women and African Americans.
But as I’m on campus today, I’m just taken back of all the African Americans in the School of Education and in each of the departments, and their research is renowned, and the books that they have published have been books that I have read, and so it’s just wonderful to see that.
So it was great to see Ginnie, Dr. McLaughlin, to be Dean of the School of Education, and I knew her from New Kent as well as being in William & Mary. And then to see her serve as acting president, as the interim president of the college. So it was good to see women begin to take hold and become stakeholders in the college
Carmen: That’s great. I want to circle back to something you said earlier because I think it’s interesting that you said you went to a segregated elementary school and then an integrated high school. And then honestly, the schools that you’ve taught at or attending William & Mary, there have been varying degrees of percentages of different races or diversities. So do you recall what it felt like to go from being in a segregated elementary school to being in an integrated high school?
Yvonne: Again, the…and I guess the culture in Charles City, because we do have those three cultures, everybody looked similar, so there wasn’t anything that was totally different. I did share, when I spoke here to a group of students on campus, I did share that I felt bad because there was one particular Caucasian, and he was very intelligent, and he was in the class with me, and students used to tease him.
00:23:04 And I didn’t initially come to his rescue. But then as—it was in a chemistry class, and I recall that at the end I went to this particular student and I embraced him, and I shared and had conversations with him. And he was like an outlier, so I know he felt awful.
So the older got, and so I reached out to him. Even when I graduated from college I was able to find him and reach out to him, and he’d done extraordinary things. And I just wanted him to know that, you know, if I had been mean to him or what have you, that, you know, I apologize, I’m sorry, because that’s an ignorant thing that we might have done because we didn’t know better as students, and no one had guided us for the transition, you know, what to anticipate. So I guess instead of me being on the end as the isolate, you know, he was.
00:23:56 So as I branched out in other different organizations and what have you, I realized that we need to always reach out to people, try to understand people, and even if people say things that seem to be inappropriate in our presence, we need to try to understand why, and not always be negative, but to see and understand what cause a person to say and do certain things. So I try to live by that, and I just try to see, oh yeah, I do see color, we all see color. But I try to see the worthiness in people and to see that inner part of people, the spirit piece and what’s in the heart.
Carmen: That’s fantastic and inspiring. And I’m sure he really appreciated you reaching out to him.
Yvonne: I think so. I think so. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Especially after all that time. After college you reached back out. He was probably glad you remembered him. And it sounds also you’re kind of, this ethos you try to live by now, it sounds a little bit like what you were saying Carroll Hardy tried to impart about having these conversations, going into these groups and breaking down boundaries in that way.
Carmen: Thank you for expanding on that. So I want to broaden a question and ask you if you could tell me some of your favorite memories of being at William & Mary.
Yvonne: Oh, wow. Of course graduating, getting that doctorate, that was… [Laughs.] And to be singled out on stage like that. And that was wonderful. And I think the year that I received my doctorate Bill Cosby might have been the person who was a guest speaker.
But some of the favorite memories was going into the library. Now in Charles City County, we don’t have a public library, and we don’t have one to this day. But we are in the throes of building a public library and everything, so that should be a reality in a couple more years, it’ll be a reality. But going into Swem Library, and on Sundays I can remember coming down and just staying the whole day, and just reading and getting books, and bringing books home, and getting people who I knew worked in the library to sign me out some extra books at that time and what have you.
00:26:06 Just being in love with being able to have so many books. And I read, and I got books, and I made sure that other people would be able to read from these books, too, with me. But that was a highlight for me.
And a highlight was going to the basketball games here. It’s different than the basketball games we would have had in high school or at Norfolk State at that time because it was small. Just the masses of people, seeing all the different people on campus together, and people that’s your age.
It was just something to see, because you don’t always have that. When you’re in the rural areas, you might live on ten to 20 acres and you might not see another person until you go another ten to 20 acres, that kind of thing. But we were all here together. You know, it was like that melting pot was right here.
00:27:00 And there were some people who were a little darker, little brown people running around William & Mary, which was great.
Carmen: That sounds like a like a lot of fun. Have you been to any basketball games since?
Yvonne: Oh, yes, oh yes, a basketball game. In fact I plan to attend the games the second Saturday in September in Norfolk. Norfolk State and William & Mary is playing. So I don’t know—I’m going to wear green and gold, and I can be either or, so I’m going to be a winner that day. Isn’t it wonderful?
Carmen: No matter what you come out on top.
Yvonne: I’m going to be a winner. That’s right, I’ll come out on top. [Laughs.]
Carmen: That’s a great idea. So other than going to basketball games, was there anything else you did for fun?
Yvonne: Well, you know, it was just, to me it was just fun just being on the campus or eating in different pubs, or just walking on the campus and looking at the buildings, and bringing other people, like my parents and everybody onto the campus as a Sunday outing.
00:27:56 So that was fun, you know. But it was also fun once we got here, and the cohort that we had. You know, they would like say okay, we had an assignment to do, so we would go and they all—I don’t drink, but they all would go and get a beer and do whatever, you know, so there was a lot of social stuff going on, too. So we enjoyed those times.
Carmen: I guess in solidarity with your cohort, you always—
Yvonne: Exactly. Exactly, exactly, yeah. Yeah, we learned a lot about each other, our families and what we do. I mean, we shared lots of secrets, you know. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Any you want to share in your oral history?
Yvonne: Of course not. [Laughs.]
Carmen: Well, you mentioned bringing your parents on campus also. What did they think about the fact that you were attending school here and getting a degree?
Yvonne: Oh, they were so proud. Being that when my mom did work, she worked for a doctor, and he was a psychiatrist out at Eastern State, but they stayed on property with like William & Mary. So that was one of the things that she said, that he always said that we want your girls to go to William & Mary, because that’s a good school. So she felt like, you know, hey, we’ve done that, we’ve achieved that, so it was kind of neat.
Carmen: Yeah, for you who drove by and saw that, the buildings, and wanted to go here, and for your mom who was told by the doctor she worked with to send her kids to college, so that’s great. So I want to transition just a little bit and ask if there were any difficult memories you recall during your time here, whether it was academic or social, anything like that.
Yvonne: Well, I’m going to tell you something. Again, I’ve said that I really sometimes, if I pursue something, I don’t always think about the negative part of it. So when I was getting my doctorate, I never thought about that maybe at the end it was not going to be accepted. I was like, you know, this is a process and I’m going to defend my dissertation and I’ll have my doctorate. And so there was one other person in my cohort, and she was a person of color. And so she didn’t pass.
00:29:59 And I was like wow, and I never thought about that. I was like wow. So sometimes you don’t always think about other people to the point where we’re all doing the same thing, and it looks like and seems like we’re all at the same level, so I never thought about any differences there. But that was a time. And I really wanted to reach out to her and encourage her. And she did. It was December and she was able to pass the dissertation and get the doctorate, so we all accomplished our goals.
Carmen: So that was the first time it really entered your mind that that was a possible outcome?
Yvonne: Yes, yes. You know, you kind of think like it’s going to happen and you go with that.
Carmen: You had your eye on the prize.
Yvonne: Had the eye on the prize. And I guess one of the things that, being here on the campus, is that I would see people in my community working in landscaping or working in the cafeteria on campus, and they would see me on campus, and they really thought that was…for being from Charles City, they thought that was something.
00:31:07 That here’s a little girl that we knew in the community and she’s going to school here now. And here I am, I’m a woman now. And I was like, I felt so honored.
So there have been times, because you’ve got to realize we didn’t have the Internet and all the great things that you all have now, so there was a time when I needed papers to come to William & Mary, and I would go to church, and it would be the landscaper who I know worked outside of Jones Hall, and he would get that brown folder with that paper assignment in it and he would take it up for me and get it here on time.
I had to come cross a bridge and sometimes the bridge would be down for days, and you had to make maybe a 40 mile around to get here to the college. So those obstacles were there, and those barriers, but you had to learn how to get around that.
00:31:52 But I would say that when I did get my doctorate, my church community, they had a big celebration in church, and it was a big thing for people. So my give back is that as I reach and climb that I pull someone up, and so therefore we have scholarships in our church and making sure that when children graduate that the kids go off to college, and just trying to do all those great things because, you know, you were here. And not only in my church and my church community, but making sure that certain things happen.
One of the persons who graduated with me in the 1975 graduating class at Charles City High School, her name was Audrey Holmes, and she was the number one person in the graduating class, and she was a Native American, and she was afforded the opportunity to come to William & Mary as a law student. She has her own law practice now. We are all friends. And it’s just wonderful to know that William & Mary worked for the brown people, because we’ve been here. We’ve left our footprints.
Carmen: Yeah, it sounds like there’s a really close connection between Charles City County and William & Mary. And the way you were describing the individuals in your community and your church community who worked on campus here, what was that experience like just having…it sounds like it was a great support system having so many people that you knew working in different roles on this campus. Do you recall what their experience was like working here?
Yvonne: Well, many of them still work here. They work in housekeeping. And every time I come on campus, I don’t know about today, but just about every time I’m on campus I see them and we speak. And because now William & Mary have identified you guys with the green shirts and all, and the khaki pants, so I know who most of them are. But we speak and we talk about it.
But what I can say, they’re here working, but many of them, many of them have had the opportunity to send their children off to college, so by working here they were able to send their children off to college. So education, again, they value education.
00:34:00 And that’s a good thing to see that. But they’ll make comments to each other—did you see Yvonne? She was on campus or, you know. And I was like, ooh, they think I’m something, that’s la-la-la, what have you. But, I mean, you know, they were proud of me and I was proud of them for what they’ve done with their own children, so it’s like a win-win situation. You know, you have to work. And they’re here, and they take advantage of a lot of the opportunities here on campus, too.
And I do know that in talking and having the opportunity to meet the first three residents who were African Americans, they were talking about how they embraced them, too, on campus. So it’s been one of those things where we all, we look for people who are similar to us and we make those connections, and we value people for what they bring to the table, because everybody has worth.
Carmen: Absolutely. I’ve consistently heard in these interviews about meeting with members of the housekeeping staff or landscaping staff, people working in the cafeterias and mail room that they were an incredible, incredible support system.
Yvonne: Yes, yes.
Carmen: That’s wonderful. And also if you do have names—you don’t have to give them now, but you can—of individuals that were working on staff here who worked during the time you were in school here that still recognize you when you come on campus today, I would love to have those, because I really want to sit down with individuals who worked on staff here as well as alumni.
Carmen: So we can talk about that later if you want.
Carmen: So I want to move, I guess transition from your time here at William & Mary to what happened afterwards. So once you got your degree here at William & Mary, what was your trajectory, and how did your education here impact that trajectory?
Yvonne: Oh, it impacted it. I mean, I always wanted to teach, so when I left Norfolk State I was teaching. And when I first started at William & Mary I was teaching. So I received my master’s in 1987, and I wanted to take some more classes, so I went off to VCU, taking some more law classes, more advanced school law classes. I was like this stuff is fun.
00:36:05 So anyway, when I was there one of the professors said, well, you know, you might want to look at William & Mary to further your studies or come here to VCU with us because we want you, too, and whatever. And I’m like, oh, I don’t know what I want to do. But then he said to me, he says, there is an opening for a principal in Hopewell. And I said I’ve never been an assistant principal, I’m a teacher. He says no, but I want you to go and I want you to apply for the job. And I said, well, I have a job.
So I applied for the job, and I went to the…when I went to apply for the job, there was an individual there who had been a principal at the elementary school that I attended. He was sitting there. And he was being interviewed. And I was like, well, why am I here? People of that caliber, I’m like, I’m out of my zone.
00:37:00 So I went in and I interviewed, and it was like, it was a huge panel. And I just felt real comfortable, and, you know, I have a job, so what am I going to lose? It was almost like just getting some experience. So I went in and I did that, and I got home. And about 11:00 at night the telephone rung and it was the personnel, Dr. Jane [McCullen] from Hopewell, and she says, well, are you sitting down? I said no, I’m standing up talking to you on the phone, you know, just being cocky.
And she says, well, we would like to offer you the position. I was like, oh, my stars. So I couldn’t believe it because I really didn’t do that. And she says, well, all of the experience you’ve had at William & Mary, and what you’ve done there, and she just went on and on, and like wow. And she was saying all your coursework, and blah-blah-blah, and what you’ve done in New Kent working with the kids. And we talked to people there and everything. And so I was like so who did she talk to?
00:37:55 So the superintendent, Roy [Geiger], he’s a graduate of William & Mary, so a lot of people that she talked with, they were graduates of William & Mary. So I think the school had prepared me, so off I went being a principal, never an assistant principal. At the age of 29, here I am a principal, going from a rural school that was basically Caucasian and going into an inner city school that was basically African American. I felt equipped, you know, I’m an African American, to do it. And that is what started it.
So from there I was able to just get into all kinds of things. I was able to teach. I did adjunct for University of Virginia for ten consecutive years. I’ve done adjunct for Virginia State, VCU, Regent, you name it. So I felt that William & Mary really afforded those doors to open because of what I had garnered from them, and made myself accessible, and that every opportunity that was out there, I wanted it. So if you crave it and if you’re hungry for it, then, you know, you’ll get it.
Carmen: It sounds like you’re a lifelong educator.
Yvonne: Yes. I love education. I love helping people and I love learning, so that’s a good thing, I guess. [Laughs.]
Carmen: No, it is. I got that sense when you said you loved going and reading books in Swem. That’s not everybody’s opinion of Swem. Some of those students look like they’ve been there for days and they are at their wit’s end, but I’m glad that it was a positive experience for you.
Yvonne: Yeah, you had to learn how to work the stacks at that time. You had to know where to go. [Laughs.]
Carmen: So if we could talk a little bit more about your time at the Hopewell Public Schools, because as I was doing some research on you I saw an article about an award you received, the Distinguished Service Award. And it was given to African American educators who made a difference in their community. And it sounds like, in that article alone it talked about the different STEM initiatives you supported, and the community based programs you established, so you clearly had a very, very significant impact on that school district and those communities. So can you just talk about that a little bit more?
Yvonne: Oh, that was a wonderful time for me. I had the opportunity—of course I’m young now—and so I had the opportunity to close two schools and bring, to consolidate those two schools. One had been the African American school and the other had been the Caucasian school. Bring those two schools together under a new school. And so I opened a new school. And when we opened the new school, we had an entire wing that was for special needs students, and particularly autism.
So I had put all of the credentials I had at William & Mary and Norfolk State, I had to make sure that I knew all of that information, so that was great. So we were able to do that, and was able to really hire wonderful staff. And we were the top school in the division, so we were kind of cocky, and we prided our self on being the best, and we were competitive.
00:41:01 And for the first five years did not have one teacher to leave. I mean, even if their spouses moved they would, like, okay, I can drive, I can stay, and blah-blah-blah. So that was wonderful.
And then when I…I was working on my doctorate, and just before receiving my doctorate, they elevated me to the director of STEM, so I was able to bring the technology in. That was the beginning of technology for the school division. So that was a lot of hard work. That was different. And I took classes at different places to make sure that I had the skill sets needed. And that was fun. That was fun doing all this stuff, bringing all the technology in, getting all the one-to-one, you know, initiatives going and all the infrastructure for the Internet, and just all kinds of things. So that was great. I really enjoyed that.
00:41:56 And we got a grant from Verizon. Verizon gave us a significant grant to continue with our STEM initiative. Was able to get kids into other grants. We had middle school kids who went to MIT for the weekend, and they were able to show them some of their robotics skills. So it was great to see all of that. And we participated in robotics competition. We even had kids, we did coding back then. We had Alice and all of those things for coding. So that was great to put all these tools in the hands of babes and just to see it just take off and go.
The first looking at the GPS system, and doing that, we were the first in the state to bring the entire state together, and we put that into the high schools’ curriculum. And I was so glad to see one of my colleagues that I worked with from the State Department, and he’s now opened up a coding RVA, which is the whole school is based on coding, and it’s just wonderful.
00:43:01 So to see the little bit that I contributed and where it’s going today, it’s been so fulfilling. Just knowing that kids have so many more options and that their world is just so different because of the technology that we had. So it was great just seeing all those initiatives coming together and seeing the wonderful things.
Eboni Brown, who was here, and she was the president of the student council, student organization here, and Eboni was at my school. And to see Eboni Brown being the first African American with that mace bringing the class out, that did it. I was like, you know, this is what you do it for. And it’s just wonderful to see that.
And then coming on campus today seeing all the signs about the 50 years of the African American—I had tears in my eyes. You know, I’m like we’ve come so far, and everybody has done this collectively. And it’s been a great experience. It really has.
Carmen: The banners look beautiful.
Yvonne: The banners look just beautiful. I’m going to stop and take a picture by one. [Laughs.]
Carmen: You should. Let me know if you want me to take a picture. Well, while we’re on that topic I would love to talk about the celebration we’re about to kick off, we’re really kicking off now, about 50 years of African Americans in residence at William & Mary. Considering we’re about to celebrate that, can you speak a little bit to what you believe the value of diversity and inclusion on a campus like William & Mary is?
Yvonne: Okay. Very valuable. With the Hulon Willis Association, I went to our opening activities in Washington, D.C. and was able to feel the energy of the young students, and the older alumni, and how we all just kind of intermingled together. And everybody was sharing, and everybody was networking and meeting all these different individuals. And just feeling like, you know, that we own this, we’re part of this, we own this university. Oh, wow, we take stake in it.
00:45:01 But just getting that dynamics from that group, it kind of painted a picture for me and put it all together that we are here because somebody had the ability to come and to open those doors. And because of those three ladies staying here on campus and Hulon Willis coming in and doing what they did, when, by the time I got here, it was almost a smooth transition, so I didn’t have the barriers because of what they did initially, and the kinds of experiences they had, they made it possible for me and those coming after me to come on this campus and really embrace it.
We are truly a tribe. I mean, coming from the Native Americans, the African Americans, and the Caucasians in Charles City, and I come to a family of Tribe. I’m used to tribal living. [Laughs.] So it was a good transition just to feel that.
00:45:58 And knowing all the activities that we had, meeting the ladies, taking pictures with them, knowing that there are going to be so many celebrations for them. And I am going to attend some of those. Just to get that feeling of togetherness, cohesiveness, and that, you know, we are one.
Carmen: Very well said. So… Well, there are two different ways I want to go with this. But I want to talk about the Hulon Willis Association a little bit. That’s where we met, at the gala, the 25th anniversary gala. How did you initially get involved in the Hulon Willis Association, or what introduced you to that organization?
Yvonne: Okay, so I knew the organization exists, but like everybody else, you’re not going to get involved. So who is the person on campus that makes people do things? Who would you say?
Carmen: I would say Earl Granger sought you out.
Yvonne: Earl Granger. Earl Granger. So Earl is coming and Earl is doing—he’s coming to our board meetings in the School of Education.
00:46:58 And of course he’s making sure that we write those checks and do all that good stuff. And then Earl was like, well, that’s what you need to do, and you need to do this. And then he gives it to Jack, and then Jack is like, oh and Jack is emailing me, and sending me things, and Jack, he has me to…I am actually…there was a forum on campus, and I was the moderator, and he’s having me do all this stuff. I’m like oh, I am in trouble with the two of them.
So they were very persistent, but kind of, you know, kind of activated me a little bit, said, you know, get busy, you need to do this. And we need to do this for Lemon, and we need to do this for Carroll Hardy, and we need to do that for the three young ladies, and we need to do that for Hulon Willis, because so we need to open our pocketbooks up so that others can come on campus.
So, you know, it’s all about giving back in the end. At the end of the day, if we can’t pave the road for someone else to come and that our footprints are already there, all they have to do is follow those footprints, and then, at the end of that path, make new ones.
Carmen: Great. So I’ll go another direction now, but that was very helpful, thank you. Because I did wonder. I knew the Hulon Willis Association got kicked off in 1992, so I wasn’t sure if that was something that you got involved with when you were a student or if it’s been a more recent thing. But yes, at that 25th anniversary gala there were so many individuals there, and it seems like new life was breathed in, and it was really great to witness.
So we’re also about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of coeducation here at William & Mary, and that also is part of your story. You’re a woman who has attended William & Mary in the past 100 years. So can you also speak a little bit to the value of women and what women can offer to a university?
Yvonne: Yes. You know, we are, at large, when you look at females, we are the worker bees. We are the people who actually build the foundation and get everything going. We’re not always the ones that have the final leadership position. We’re not always at the top of the hierarchy.
00:49:05 However, but we build that base and we make that base strong. So it is good to see that when we come into any type of university, college or organization, that we are the people to grow it. So because of the women, just only 100 years, you look at that, and you have relatives that you know who’s been 100, so it’s like that’s not a whole lot on 100 years.
But if you look at the college itself, we were there when others weren’t. So we opened our doors, and the women are here, and the women had a voice, and women rights. So it all comes together as we look at civil rights, we’re looking at rights of women, and everybody’s merging together. So it’s good to see. You know, we had 100 year of the women, got a 50 year celebration of the African American, and those three people just happen to be women.
00:50:02 So it’s good to see that we merged together and that we moved to that because they have a very invigorating campaign going on as well, and have reached out to me to be one of those 100 women to give that designated amount of money. And I’m going to…yeah, I’m going to be right there with them, because I think it’s important.
But I tell anybody that it doesn’t make a difference how much money you have, it’s all about making a sacrifice to give. And that is my message to any organization when I speak. I spoke about two months ago in New Kent at one of their NAACP banquets. I was the keynote speaker. And they gave me a wonderful plaque and all those things. But my big thing was to give, that people need to open their pocketbooks and they need to give, because we’re not going to have the luxury of all that we have if we don’t sustain it.
00:50:56 So my whole message is about we need to, as we climb we need to reach back. So climb and reach, climb and reach. That needs to be the message.
Carmen: Great. And there will be ample opportunity to celebrate over the next couple years, for sure, as we have all these events kicking off, starting next week with the mural. I don’t know if you heard about the mural.
Yvonne: Yes, the unveiling of the mural, yeah.
Carmen: We’re very excited for that. So you mentioned it several times throughout your interview, but I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the ways you have remained involved at William & Mary, because it sounds like there are many. And you continue to be involved in both of these anniversary celebrations. So would you like to talk a little bit about your time on the board and other things you’ve done to be involved?
Yvonne: Okay. So the time on the board, we are able to actually send thank you letters to all of the students that are applying, and we try to encourage them to select William & Mary, so we get that direct contact with new candidates, graduate students and undergraduates. We have receptions with them and their parents.
00:52:01 And we are considered ambassadors. And what we’re supposed to be doing is encouraging the family and the kids to come here, and then once they get here we are there again to do that. So every homecoming the School of Education is open and they ask us to come, and we talk to parents, and we kind of…I guess it’s almost like marketing, because we are selling the school. We’re giving them our brand, the Tribe brand. This is where we want you to send your students and what have you.
So basically, whenever they ask me to come back to volunteer, I volunteer to do those kinds of things because I think it’s important, whether it’s to speak, or whether it’s to work with a group, or whether to come to the banquets with scholarships given out or what have you. I plan to be here, and to help, and to be active, and to let kids see people of color on campus, and that we too have a defined kind of role on the campus, and that it’s never ending. It’s a part of who you are. The Tribe stays together. We’re packed. We’re compact.
Carmen: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you also mentioned that as part of the board you all worked to make diversity and inclusion kind of the forefront of what you’re doing.
Carmen: And that’s a very important and integral part of it all.
Yvonne: Yes. The vision and mission statement at the School of Education, one of the things that the new dean has tried to do so hard is to make sure that we live up to it, that we not only write it, but that we actually have evidence to show that we’re doing these things to be inclusive. So that has been just wonderful. And there are so many people who look like me in the School of Education that’s professors that I’m just taken back, and I’m like wow, you know, it’s a great thing. It’s a great day. It really is.
Carmen: It sounds like quite the change from when you first got here and there were far fewer faces you felt that looked like your own. So can you talk about some of the changes you’ve seen in the past couple decades that you’ve been involved with William & Mary?
Yvonne: Oh, wow, yes. Just the…well, when we changed locations, in Jones Hall there were other…there were the math, and science, and the education. There was a lot of schools in that one building. So now that we have the building where it’s just the School of Education, it’s a beautiful building. It is a state-of-the-art building. And we have so many learning spaces that are unique and different, so there’s so many opportunities now. So all of this distant learning can occur. We saturate it with all the Smart technology. It is a place where you can go and actually many authors come.
But the professors and their research, it is more than researching here on campus. It is very global. And Dr. Strong, who was my dissertation chair, and I had a lot of classes with Dr. Strong, Dr. Strong now reach out with China and those things, and initiatives, and the books that he’s published from those perspectives is just awesome.
00:55:05 So it’s just one of those things now when you look at the African Americans that are here, they are young. And I have an opportunity to talk to them. And they’re researching. They got special interests. And they just want to tell you everything about what they’ve done, and where they’ve come from, and where they’ve studied. But many of those things I already knew because I was on the board and we get to see that.
But it’s just, it’s great to see that they feel very comfortable when they come here. And they continue with their research, and they continue to reach out to the community. And I like that. So it’s a lot that they can do to be a part of it. So they can contribute. Even if this is a steppingstone for some of them, I mean, again, they have contributed and they’ve left those footprints that I talk so much about because I think they’re vital.
Carmen: Definitely. Are there any changes you would like to see in the future here at William & Mary?
Yvonne: Yeah, I would like to see a female president, African American president, and presidents of many colors because I think that we’re there. We’re there. When I look at this room, and I look at all of these pictures, I’m like this is not inclusive. [Laughs.] So, you know, maybe one day we’ll have, you know, we’re doing the 100 celebration of women, maybe a woman will have that position. I look at UVA, and she’s just done an awesome job so, you know, women can do it. And just give us the opportunities and we will show you what we can do.
Carmen: We’re coming up. We’re on a presidential search so…
Yvonne: We’re on a presidential search right now, so who knows.
Carmen: I may have to do a follow-up interview once we know what happens.
Carmen: You never know. But yeah, those would be definite changes. And I think it sounds like the school is moving in that direction. So I’ve really come to the end of the questions I have listed for you, but I like to open it up at the end to you to tell me anything, everything at all, anything at all you would like to contribute that I haven’t asked you already or that you just think you would like added to your oral history.
Yvonne: I think that I pretty much have covered a lot. I marvel seeing the Lemon building coming into, you know, because really and truly, being a slave and just here we are now embracing him, and not even knowing his entire generational kind of pathway as to, you know, from whence he come. But here’s a person that’s like an unknown soldier, but we all kind of really gravitate towards, and we’re so thankful for what he’s done and how he’s contributed. And many times we just think people don’t contribute because they’re not some renowned person. But to us he’s a hero. He’s a hero in opening doors and what have you.
00:58:00 To people to come, this is a wonderful school. Give it a try. A lot of times when children are in Charles City, because they can drive to Williamsburg, this might not be a place where they want to come because it’s so close to home. But every year in the small graduating class of Charles City, 55 candidates for graduation, we have at least one or two kids who come to William & Mary, so that says a lot.
William & Mary opened its doors to a lot of the kids for leadership camp during the summer. They take advantage of that. They go to the gifted programs that they have on campus for the kids. So there’s a lot of opportunities for the community to get to know the Tribe. So it’s a wonderful place. And I hope that I can always contribute and give something, sometimes, in some years probably more than others.
00:58:57 But I’m loyal to the blue and gold, which is the high school colors. I’m loyal to the green and gold, which is Norfolk State and William & Mary colors. So, you know, I’m a Spartan Tribe and I’m a Tribe so, you know, I want to make sure that everybody know, come to William & Mary.
Carmen: Great. Well, thank you so much. Today you have contributed your time—
Yvonne: Thank you.
Carmen: —and we appreciate that so much. It is also going to be excellent to add this to our archives and just have your story as part of the history of William & Mary, and have individuals be able to go back and research this and see this and know that this is a piece of all of that, so one of those footprints, as you said. So thank you very much.
Yvonne: Thank you.
00:59:45 [End of recording.]
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