Feature Stories Campus Events

Washington and Lee Partners with Carter Center to Expand Liberia Justice Project

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Welcome Home for Quincy Springs IV '02

WDBJ-TV, Roanoke’s CBS affiliate, had a heartwarming feature about the homecoming of a Washington and Lee alumnus Quincy Springs after eight years serving in the military, including this last year in Afghanistan. As the story details, Quincy, a captain in the U.S. Army, was married a year ago just prior to his last deployment when he was involved with eradicating poppy from Afghanistan. As Quincy told the WDBJ reporter, “There are a lot of scars , not only in the country but also in the people.” Quincy majored in philosophy at W&L and was president of the Interfraternity Council in his senior year. You can watch the video below:

Kennedy Would Have Relished the Fight Liberals Face Now

by Molly Michelmore
Assistant Professor of History
(This piece appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

For many, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s death last Tuesday marked an end of an era in American politics — an appropriate bookend to a bygone liberal era. For those on the right, the liberalism of the 1960s — a liberalism Kennedy embodied throughout his Senate career — was a failed experiment in “Big Government,” brought mercifully to a close with the election of Ronald Reagan. To others, ’60s liberalism represented an unfulfilled dream of a more socially, economically, and politically egalitarian nation, a dream dashed by a “backlash” against the social, cultural, and particularly racial upheavals of the 1960s.

But, our collective memories of American liberalism — before, during, and after the 1960s — are in need of some revision.

FIRST, LIBERALISM and liberal policy did not fail — at least not in the ways commonly imagined. Beginning in the 1930s with the New Deal, and accelerating after the Second World War, American liberals not only created a social safety net to protect most Americans from what President Franklin Roosevelt once called the “hazards and vicissitudes of life,” but also learned to harness the power of the federal government to grow and manage the national economy.

Thanks to liberal programs — both visible ones like the GI Bill of Rights and less apparent ones like the home mortgage guarantees provided by the Federal Housing Administration — millions of working-class Americans had, for the first time, access to the educational and financial resources that allowed them to move into the middle class. And while another key tenet of postwar liberalism, the dream of civil rights, has been imperfectly realized, it is hard to deny that the United States today is a far more equal nation than when Kennedy took office in 1962.

SECOND, THE “tax-and-spend” liberal is largely a fiction created by right-wing political entrepreneurs in the 1970s. True, the national government grew exponentially over the second half of the 20th century as politicians in both parties used the spoils of economic growth to meet their constituents’ demands for new schools, better roads, more jobs. But, throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, liberals consistently married these spending commitments to an equal commitment to lower taxes on ordinary Americans.

Indeed, over the course of the postwar period, the total level of taxation, as a percentage of GNP, remained relatively constant, regardless of who sat in the White House or who controlled Congress. And it was Ronald Reagan, not Lyndon Johnson or Harry Truman, who signed the largest peacetime tax increases in American history.

But, if liberals succeeded in facilitating economic mobility and bringing an end to Jim Crow, they did so in ways that ultimately constrained their ability to build the kind of egalitarian nation many of them envisioned.

The state erected by liberal state builders in the postwar era provided economic security in largely invisible ways. By funneling federal money to individuals and corporations through the tax code in the form of complicated write-offs, deductions, and credits, liberals essentially erased the government (or at least its successes) from view.

This strategy not only reinforced — and in some cases exacerbated — existing discriminatory patterns in the housing and labor markets that favored white, male workers, but also helped to create the fiction of a “free market” independent of government interference.

THE DEMOCRATIC Party of today is still paying the price for the policy compromises and rhetorical choices liberals made in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current debate over health care reform.

Much of the opposition to health care reform stems from a fear of government involvement in health care. But, the government is already deeply involved in health care — not only through Medicare, which has provided health security to the vast majority of American seniors for the past 44 years — but in private insurance as well. However, because the government’s role in health care provision is in the form of tax credits to — and regulations on — employers, its role here is all but erased.

Liberals’ response to the misinformation campaign disseminated by special-interest groups and other reform opponents has been tepid at best. Rather than sacrificing the “public option,” liberals should come to the defense of a government that has done so much for so many people — whether they realize it or not.

To do this, liberals will have to push back against 30 years of political rhetoric that assumed, rather than proved, that, in Regan’s famous formulation, “government was the problem.” More, they must combat a 70-year history of liberal policy that obscured its own role in creating economic security and social mobility, and enabled the kind of anti-statist and free-market fundamentalism that has colored and distorted domestic politics.

It’s going to be an uphill battle. And one that Ted Kennedy would have relished.

Molly Michelmore is an assistant professor of history at Washington and Lee University, specializing in 20th century politics.

Uncovering the Graffiti of Pompeii

Today, a kid spray painting a wall with graffiti would probably get arrested.

But 1,900 years ago in Pompeii, Italy, everybody was doing it. They wrote on the exteriors of houses up and down the street, in bath houses and in kitchens. Everything was fair game.

Rebecca Benefiel, assistant professor of classics at Washington and Lee University, has spent the last three years studying the more than 11,000 graffiti in Pompeii. “It’s the only site where we have an entire city’s worth of these messages,” she said.

The graffiti present a combination of writing and drawings, with writing being the more common form of expression. Benefiel said she sees the graffiti as the voice of the people and a lens through which to view ancient society.

* Watch a slide show from Pompeii

For example, while history has not treated the Emperor Nero kindly, he was in fact very popular with the locals in Pompeii. Benefiel came across numerous graffiti saying “Neroni Feliciter,” which roughly translates into “Long Live Nero.”

Of the 100 graffiti praising the different emperors, Benefiel estimates more than half were for Nero. “He was incredibly popular and people loved him. I found a lot of the graffiti at the entrances to houses of the wealthy (who would have had a stake in declaring their support of the imperial regime). But I also found them in places like kitchens and hallways where they could have been put up by servants of the house or slaves. However, after Nero kicked his pregnant wife, killing her and the baby, his popularity waned. But even so, the people didn’t go back and erase all their previous declarations of love.”
It’s the sort of discovery that fascinated and enchanted Benefiel about ancient graffiti.

Interest in the subject has also been surging among other academics. In the past three years, four conferences have been devoted to the topic. By fall 2009, Benefiel will have spoken at three of them.

USA Today also featured Benefiel’s work in an article during the summer of 2009, and she has been interviewed for two programs on the History Channel, due to be aired in early 2010. So far, she has two articles on graffiti in print, with four more articles forthcoming this year. She also has two books in progress and says she has ideas for 15 more articles.

You would think that graffiti nearly 2,000 years old would have been studied extensively by now and that there would be little left to write about.

The reality is that Benefiel is one of few scholars to really study this ancient graffiti of Pompeii. “The graffiti were basically ignored because as one scholar put it, “The graffiti are not written by the kind of people we are most interested in meeting,'” explained Benefiel.

She first came across them in 2005 while researching her dissertation. “They were fundamentally interesting, and I realized that the majority of them had never been studied,” she said.

A major international project begun in the late 1800s documented and cataloged all the Latin inscriptions from the ancient world in every country. Benefiel had worked earlier with stone inscriptions from Rome, but since coming to W&L has focused her studies on the wall-inscription from Pompeii. “They contain a wealth of details about popular culture of the Roman Empire,” she said.

Benefiel added that it was fortunate that the graffiti had been recorded, because many of them have now vanished as the wall plaster they were written on has crumbled.

Two-thirds of Pompeii has been uncovered and is now deteriorating from exposure to strong sunlight, rain, creeping vegetation and tourists. Benefiel said that the authorities have been putting a great effort into preserving the city in the last few years. “But you’re probably not going to see any brand-new excavations any time soon, for that reason,” she said.

Pompeii is unique in its preservation of life as it was in 79 A.D., when Mount Vesuvius erupted. It buried the city with a light pumice stone called lapilli that gradually covered the houses to about the second story during a period of 36 hours. “You can easily shovel the lapilli into a bucket,” said Benefiel. “In a matter of days you’ve got a whole building cleared.”

This means the first stories of buildings are very well preserved, and that is where Benefiel carries out some of her research.

“I really do love Pompeii,” she said. “You can walk through the spaces and feel that people lived here. You can go into someone’s garden or latrine and you know this space because it’s familiar. You’re standing in someone’s house. It’s wonderful for that sense of immediacy.”

These ancient houses all faced inward with an internal court containing a pool and gardens. That left a blank façade facing the street, explained Benefiel, and plenty of space for writing graffiti on what was seen as a public space. In fact all façades of buildings could be written on in every street.

“These walls were huge message boards,” said Benefiel. “What’s really fun is how interactive the graffiti was. It’s fascinating because it shows how engaged the people were in the writing process. They were reading the messages around them and writing responses.”

Benefiel found messages of love exchanged between a man (named Secundus or “Second”) and a woman (named Prima, or “First”) who lived at different ends of a city block.

She discovered a poetry competition with eight messages. “Someone starts off quoting a verse of poetry, and then someone else adds to it and so forth. It’s very interactive and you can see that there are different styles of handwriting.”

Benefiel explained that the graffiti is incised into the wall plaster and all anyone would need was a sharp implement. “It was pretty easy to carve the stucco,” she said. She also found that because it’s much easier to carve a vertical line into the grain of the plaster and harder to make a horizontal line, the three horizontal strokes of the letter E (a common letter in Latin) were turned into two vertical strokes.

The graffiti that is preserved is mostly legible, but Benefiel did need to use a light to cast a sideways shadow to see the incisions better. She said she spends her time measuring, sketching and photographing, but that photographing the graffiti at the same time as holding a light to one side to cast the shadow was impossible.

This past year, thanks to winning the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship from the Archeological Institute of America, Benefiel was able to spend 10 months of the year continuing her research on site. She was finding so much material that she applied for a Lenfest Grant for summer research in order to bring an undergraduate student Pompeii, Jacqueline DiBiasie ’09, to assist her over spring break. Having a second pair of hands and eyes was of tremendous help, allowing her to move more quickly in documenting the graffiti.

“Jackie even discovered a previously unknown graffito, a drawing of a man wearing only a loincloth and dancing,” said Benefiel. DiBiasie begins her Ph.D. in classical archaeology this fall at the University of Texas. When asked about the site, Benefiel said, “Pompeii is so extensive. It has so many nooks and crannies that I’ve spent a summer excavating there, I’ve visited it ten times, and I feel like I’m finally getting to know the city. There is still plenty I haven’t explored and I’m glad about that. There’s always room for discovery. Every time I go back I find something new.”

The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee University Wins Online Service Award

The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee University (CKWLU) was awarded $1,000 in the national online True Hero™ Competition.

CKWLU was one of the top seven winners of the initial True Hero™ competition, which had 54 student community service projects posted from 32 colleges. Truehero.org, which is a showcase for community service projects on the Internet, went live in early 2009. Over 21,000 people have voted for one of the service projects posted on the website, and over 6,500 have viewed a service project video linked to YouTube.

“A member of our student leadership team, Sarah Thornsberry, discovered this opportunity for us,” said Jenny Sproul, coordinator of The Campus Kitchen at W&L. “It has been incredible to see how much support we received with this project, and we’re thrilled to be a recipient of a $1,000 grant.”

CKWLU is a service organization that uses surplus food collected from campus dining services, catering operations and donations, and then provides nutritious and tasty meals to those in need in the Rockbridge County area.

The organization works with nine agencies in the Rockbridge area providing meals to Habitat for Humanity homes, the Robert E. Lee Hotel apartments, the Manor at Natural Bridge, Rockbridge Area Hospice, Project Horizon, the Lexington City Office on Youth’s afterschool program, the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center, Magnolia Center and Waddell Head Start. The food they cook and deliver is based on the needs of each agency.

The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee was started by Ingrid Easton ’06. After completing her internship in the Shepherd Poverty Program, part of which was working at the Campus Kitchens Project national headquarters in Washington D.C., she believed she had found her calling–to start a non-profit to help the needy. Easton spent her senior year creating and organizing a Campus Kitchen on the W&L campus.

Missouri Mad Men

We’re guessing that Washington and Lee alumnus Brent Beshore (Class of 2005) doesn’t necessarily have three-martini lunches a la Don Draper of Mad Men. But suggests that Brent’s early success as an adman is mindful of TV’s Draper, the creative director of Sterling Cooper. In Brent’s case, the firm is called Pure Marketing and Media. Brent is the 26-year-old CEO and co-owner of the Columbia, Mo., based company that has about 50 clients, projected annual revenue of more than $3 million, two subsidiary companies and 26 employees. The W&L politics major was working toward a master’s degree in business administration and law at the University of Missouri when he began a company called Event Solutions. Eventually he would pair up with a partner to form the new group, which is distinguished by including an audio and video production company, Arable Entertainment, and a research company, Insight. You can compare Brent’s work with Don Draper’s on the Pure Marketing Web site.

Washington Post Profiles W&L Law Alum

Jonathan Keiler is a 1984 graduate of the Washington and Lee School of Law. After four years as an Army Judge Advocate General officer and then moved to a private law firm in Bethesda, Md., before he changed course altogether and began teaching social studies at Bowie High School in Prince Georges County, Md. Earlier this week Jonathan was the subject of a fascinating article in the Washington Post where education columnist Jay Mathews disclosed how Jonathan nearly lost his job because he didn’t have the requisite credits for certification. What was particularly interesting is that, according to Mathews’ piece, the school system was giving him no credits for his three years at W&L’s School of Law, which Mathews called “one of the nation’s top law schools.” Just as Mathews’ piece was going to press, the school system relented, and Jonathan won’t lose his job. The certification issues notwithstanding, this is a profile of an excellent teacher and coach of the schools’ Mock Trial team. You can read Mathews’ story, “When a Gifted Teacher Has to Jump Through Hoops Just to Keep His Job, Change Is Needed,” here.

Is It the Shoes?

Coye Nokes graduated from Washington and Lee in 1997 with a major in business administration and worked for a time in London as a financial consultant. As the story goes, the part of the job that Coye found most difficult was finding a pair of shoes that were appropriate for her business attire and didn’t hurt her feet. The solution? The Coye Nokes collection of shoes debuted this fall and has quickly garnered impressive reviews in the fashion press. For instance, Daily Candy praises Coye’s shoes as “a collection of sleek styles in various heights that is as comfy as it is classy.” In a story in FootwearPlus, Coye says that “work shoes don’t have to be dull and boring.” Her shoes are handmade in the Marche region of Italy and are available online at the Coye Nokes Website.

Cooking (and Thinking) with Brys Stephens

What are you craving? That’s what Washington and Lee alumnus Brys Stephens of the Class of 1995 wants you to ask yourself when you go to the Web to search for a recipe. Brys and a longtime friend Chip Brantley are the creators of the Web site, Cookthink. As they explain, “We wanted to create a cleaner, smarter recipe website, something with consistently good recipes, more efficient search, better resources and friendly advice.” So if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking to cook, Cookthink lets you search by categories like mood (eg, hangover-friendly), ingredient (eg, chicken), cuisine (eg, Tex-Mex) and dish type (eg, quesadilla).  In an article in the Birmingham News about Cookthink, Brys explained that he had completed a clerkship with a judge in Washington, D.C., when he talked with friends who had started an Internet company, and he decided to try one with food as the theme. Try out the site but don’t miss the blog where Brys and his partner post on everything from how to cook fresh shrimp to such unusual recipes as Savory Parmesan Quinoa Cakes.

Kaylee Hartung Unplugged

Kaylee Hartung

Earlier this year CBS News began a new Web-only video feature called Washington Unplugged, a weekly, 15-minute program hosted by veteran newsman Bob Schieffer. More recently, they’ve added a new segment called “Unplugged Under 40,” which is hosted by Washington and Lee alumna Kaylee Hartung of the Class of 2007. Kaylee is Schieffer’s assistant on Face the Nation and visited W&L with her boss last spring when he spoke to journalism students. With Unplugged Under 40, she’s getting her shot in front of the camera and has done some really interesting interviews with a variety of up-and-comers in Washington. Some of her interviews have included the 28 year-old executive editor of DC magazine, “The Washingtonian,” Garrett Graff, White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki, 28-year-old Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, and chef and restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn. Be sure to check out the view comments left at the end of those videos, too.