SABU Looks Back at Eventful Black History Month In February and early March, performances, panel discussions, film screenings and lectures put the focus on black history and the black experience at Washington and Lee.
“I think nationally we’ve seen a lot of movements for people to want to be involved and want to engage. That has pushed people to want to hear different perspectives, and has also created more visibility of groups on our campus that have been trying to gain visibility.”
— Elizabeth Mugo ’19
On a Sunday afternoon in late February, W&L’s Stackhouse Theater played host to seven “guests” with extraordinary stories to tell. From America’s first black Army nurse, Susie Taylor, to political activist Angela Davis, the characters who crossed the stage were all African-American women who made a major mark on history, even if their names do not appear in most textbooks.
The spoken-word performance, “Hidden Black Girl Magic: A Tribute to African-American Women,” was the brainchild of Sasha Edwards, a first-year student from Mississippi. During a meeting of the Student Association for Black Unity (SABU) in January, Edwards tossed out the idea as one way to celebrate Black History Month on campus.
Edwards wrote the short play and asked seven friends to dress up and portray the characters. She served as the narrator, introducing each woman as she appeared on stage for a five-minute monologue about her life and work. The “time machine” produced the following characters: Susie Taylor (portrayed by Cloy Onyango ’20), Josephine Baker (Baridapdoo Wiwuga ‘20), Daisy Bates (Alexus McGriff ‘18), Billie Holiday (Ramonah Gibson ’20), Fannie Lou Hamer (Joelle Simeu ’20), Shirley Chisolm (Elizabeth Mugo ’19) and Angela Davis (Demoriya Phillips ’19).
“I wanted the actors to take on the characters’ personality and have the audience really feel like they were making a new acquaintance or a new friend,” Edwards said, “and I wanted people who don’t normally come to mind when you think about black history.”
Edwards, who acted in plays and worked behind the scenes in theater during high school, was both excited and nervous to pull off her first event as a W&L student. “I feel like I’d be determined enough to do this at any school, but it wouldn’t be as easy as it is here,” she said.
Student Affairs staff members and work study students pitched in to help, so the play was ultimately enhanced by photos projected on a screen behind the characters – not to mention a time-warp graphic and sound effect in between characters. Billie Holiday was even able to “sing” one of her tunes on stage.
“Hidden Black Girl Magic” was just one of several events on campus in February and early March that celebrated Black History Month. SABU co-leaders Truth Iyiewuare ’18 and Elizabeth Mugo ’19 said many of those ideas sprang from the same SABU brainstorming meeting, and this year saw more involvement than in years past. They suspect that better planning and marketing, as well as the current political climate, contributed to greater participation.
“I think nationally we’ve seen a lot of movements for people to want to be involved and want to engage,” Mugo said. “That has pushed people to want to hear different perspectives, and has also created more visibility of groups on our campus that have been trying to gain visibility.”
On Feb. 12, in response to an idea from Ramonah Gibson ’20, SABU and the African Society hosted a discussion about black hair at Hillel House. The purpose of the event was to address people’s curiosity about black hair with demonstrations, presentations and conversations. It included a 13-person panel made up of men and women with different hairstyles.
Gibson said she attended an all-white high school, where questions about her hair got old. “At least here, other people are having these questions asked of them, too. I thought, wouldn’t this be a cool event? Why don’t we actually pull it off?”
As a result, the multipurpose room at Hillel was packed with students of all ages, races and backgrounds. Several stations were set up around the room, and guests rotated through the stations to talk about different black hairstyles. At each station, a W&L student modeled the featured style. The hosts also invited a guest black hairstylist from Roanoke.
“Even the black students on campus learned things they didn’t know,” Gibson said.
Other Black History Month events at W&L included a Black Poetry Night, when everyone was invited to the Commons Living Room to read a favorite selection by a black poet. The films “Moonlight” and “Loving” were both screened, and the university hosted two lectures. In early March, a Black Lives Matter panel discussion drew a large crowd and lively discussion.
After the annual John Chavis Lecture in African-American Studies, Greek and Residential Life Coordinator Chris Moore hosted a Chavis House program focused on chicken and waffles, an iconic (and delicious) food combination that traces its roots back to the Harlem Renaissance.
Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Juniors Tammi Simpson, who is also the advisor for SABU, said student involvement this year made for one of the most eventful and successful Black History Month celebrations she has seen at W&L.
“There’s just an energy that seems to be taking place,” she said, “and W&L can create an environment of support and provide the resources that allow students to be so creative. It’s wonderful to see it come together.”
University Singers to Perform at Carnegie Hall April 1 The group was chosen to perform, along with only three other choirs from around the nation, after a highly competitive selection process.
“There are so many opportunities that we have in the University Singers that other people in a choir at a small liberal arts school would never even dream of, and I attribute those opportunities to the hard work of Dr. Lynch.”
— Jake Burnett ’17
Washington and Lee University has had a strong choral tradition since its first group, the Men’s Glee Club, was established in the 19th century. But W&L choirs have not always competed on a national level. Now, thanks to hard work and solid leadership, that is beginning to change.
On April 1, the Washington and Lee University Singers will take the stage for the Collegiate Choral Showcase at Carnegie Hall in New York. Earning the invitation was a highly competitive process, and the W&L group is one of only four collegiate choirs from around the country that were chosen.
“This is a wonderful accomplishment for our University Singers,” said W&L Provost Marc Conner. “It’s a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of Director Shane Lynch and all of the students involved. I’m delighted to see this recognition of the tremendous performing arts programs at Washington and Lee.”
The Carnegie Hall news came about the same time Lynch, W&L’s director of choral activities, received word that the University Singers had been selected to perform at the American Choral Director Association’s National Conference. Because they could not do both, Lynch said, they selected the invitation that came first. But having to make the choice was “a great problem to have,” he said.
To vie for a spot in the Collegiate Choral Showcase, Lynch submitted several years’ worth of recordings of the University Singers, including a couple of songs per year. He also had to submit a sample program for the concert, which will include about eight songs per group.
Judges want to know that a group has the ability to sing a number of different songs well and that the quality of the choir has been sustained over the course of several years despite the annual turnover that is inevitable in any college choir. University Singers has 52 members, and about 40 to 50 percent graduate each year.
Lynch has been the director of choral activities at W&L since 2009. In 2013, the University Singers were invited to sing at the Virginia Music Educators Association’s state conference. “That was the first time a W&L ensemble had ever been accepted to perform at VMEA,” he said. “That was a huge step forward with blind peer review of the ensemble. It put us onto a little bit of equal footing with other Virginia schools that are more known for their music programs.”
The following year, the group sang a featured performance at the National Cathedral, which Lynch said was “another step up.”
“What has been fun about it from my end is that each class, and each iteration of the choir, has tried to rise to meet the challenge,” he said. “And then the next class is [asking] what do we have to do to meet the next one? It’s nice to see how we have been able to keep moving up the ladder to more exciting performances and options.”
Jake Burnett, a senior music major and member of University Singers, said being part of a group that is constantly striving to improve has been inspiring.
“When I first arrived at Washington and Lee and I joined the Men’s Glee Club, I had no idea what I was in for with the choral program. I just thought I was going to do a little bit of singing and it would be a good time,” Burnett said. “Little did I know that the University Singers would grow over my four years to become a professional-quality choral group. In addition to being filled with people whom I am blessed to call my choir family, we get to make beautiful music together for four hours every week, travel for a week together on tour sharing that music, and receive such honors as a standing invitation to sing at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., being accepted (and turning down the offer) to sing at a national choral conference, and sing a full solo set in Carnegie Hall.
“There are so many opportunities that we have in the University Singers that other people in a choir at a small liberal arts school would never even dream of, and I attribute those opportunities to the hard work of Dr. Lynch. He has built up the choral program over the last eight years and turned it into something worth broadcasting to the world. We can’t thank him enough for that.”
The University Singers will be in fine company on the Perelman Stage in the Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. The other three choirs that will perform that evening are the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, the University of Washington Chamber Singers and the University of Washington Chorale.
To purchase tickets, click here.
W&L Helps Girl Scouts See the World — in Lexington For World Thinking Day, W&L’s foreign language teaching assistants led local Girl Scouts in a variety of internationally themed activities.
Every February, Girl Scouts all over the globe celebrate World Thinking Day, an occasion that is meant to promote global awareness and connect girls to the cultures of the world with special activities. This year, as in years past, Washington and Lee University’s Center for International Education got in on the fun, sending a group of foreign language teaching assistants and students to spend time with about 45 local Girl Scouts ages 5-12.
Lexington’s World Thinking Day event took place on Feb. 11 at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church. There, the W&L students and FLTAs set up seven separate stations for internationally themed activities, and the girls, parents and scout leaders rotated through the stations for hours of fun and learning.
Michiko Nakada and Nao Okada ’17 showed girls the art of origami, teaching them how to make origami hearts out of colorful paper. Camille Bouillon ’17 showed guests how to make crepes, and everybody enjoyed sampling the fruit of their labor (with tasty fillings, of course). Imad Baazizi ’17 showed girls how to write their names in Arabic, while Lucía Cespedes ’17 got them on their feet for a traditional Argentinian dance. With Mengsu Kong, scouts cut colored paper into the shape of the Chinese letter for spring. Ekaterina Tsvetkova ’20 showed them how to make bracelets for Baba Marta, a Bulgarian holiday that celebrates the coming of spring, and Anna Jerusalem ’17 supplied the materials and instruction for painting eggs.
“It was a great pleasure for me to work with these motivated and open-minded young women and to see how eager and interested they are in learning new skills,” Jerusalem said.
While W&L classes are never taught by foreign language teaching assistants, they do assist during classes. They also conduct language tables over lunch or dinner, where students can practice speaking the languages they are studying, and they spend time developing cultural events on campus and in the community.
Girl Scout leader Amy Swisher said Washington and Lee international students and staff have participated in the World Thinking Day event a number of times in the past, and it is always a big hit with the girls. This year, she said, the scouts “were really excited and had a lot of fun.”
“At the very end [of meetings] we always do a friendship circle,” she said. “We get in a big circle and cross arms right over left, then do a friendship squeeze, passing the squeeze all the way around the circle. We included the W&L guests in the circle this year and they thought it was really fun.”
Amy Richwine, international student advisor and associate director of the Center for International Education, provided photos of the event (see slideshow below).
“It is a good thing that we do for our community,” Richwine said, “and I just like to support the Girl Scouts because I was a Girl Scout.”
Discovery Takes Historic Document from Ordinary to Extraordinary This seemingly ordinary subscription list from 1776, which has long been a part of W&L Special Collections, has a fascinating connection with American independence.
In preparing for a social media post regarding the document several weeks ago, I noticed a special significance to five of the signatures on the subscription list.
— Tom Camden, Special Collections
By Tom Camden, director of Special Collections at Washington and Lee
Tucked among the hundreds of official early Washington and Lee University (formerly called Liberty Hall Academy) records housed in the Special Collections vault is one seemingly ordinary subscription list that, upon close inspection, proves to have an extraordinary association with American independence.
In May 1776, the Board of Trustees of the Timber Ridge Academy formally voted to rename the school Liberty Hall Academy in response to the patriotic fervor then sweeping the Colonies. During the school’s first months of operation as Liberty Hall Academy, the board embarked on a fundraising campaign that enjoyed considerable success, particularly in the Shenandoah Valley. The most successful effort, however, was a subscription list (in more modern terms, a pledge sheet) that was circulated in Williamsburg by Thomas Lewis and Samuel McDowell. Lewis and McDowell, trustees of the academy, were representatives from Augusta County to the Virginia General Assembly.
During the same legislative session when they circulated the subscription for Liberty Hall Academy, a related advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette (November 8, 1776). The advertisement announced to the public that “all the most important branches of literature necessary to prepare young gentlemen for the study of law, physick [sic] and theology, may be taught to good advantage, upon the most approved plan.” Potential patrons were advised that the school owned a “considerable library of books and the most essential parts of a mathematical apparatus.” Tuition was set at four pounds; board was to cost six pounds, 10 shillings. Firewood was available, but students were expected to provide their own candles, beds and washing. The healthful climate of the location was mentioned. In order to reassure Anglicans who might have had qualms about supporting a Presbyterian school, the advertisement declared: “the education and morals of youth being the great objects in view, those peculiarities which form the complexion of any party shall have no place in the scheme.”
Pledges were secured from 107 persons, all of whom signed the original subscription list. The list includes the distinctive signature of Thomas Jefferson, who pledged (and paid) three pounds. In all, the successful campaign raised 215 pounds, nine shillings.
The original subscription list has been well-known to university historians and scholars for some years, and I have used it often in special presentations. However, it was only recently that I made a startling discovery that takes one of Washington and Lee’s earliest documents to an extraordinary new level.
In preparing for a social media post regarding the document several weeks ago, I noticed a special significance to five of the signatures on the subscription list. In addition to Thomas Jefferson, other noted signatories included Benjamin Harrison, George Wythe, Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson Jr. (Nelson pledged the largest amount of the more than 100 subscribers at nine pounds, 12 shillings).
What sets these individuals apart from the other 102 signatories? All five individuals who strongly supported an early investment in Liberty Hall Academy were also signers of the Declaration of Independence, arguably one of the most important documents created in the course of America’s history.
The same patriotic fervor that spawned such an extraordinary document clearly is reflected in the somewhat ordinary, routine subscription list generated for the new school on Virginia’s frontier. The early days of the institutions that evolved into Washington Academy and Washington and Lee University were often precarious ones, but simple, ordinary records like the Liberty Hall subscription list show how strong-minded trustees overcame the economic problems that continued to overshadow the institution until George Washington’s gift of 1796.
To read more about the objects in Special Collections and University Collections of Art and History, click here.
Jack Warner ’40, W&L Trustee Emeritus, Dies at 99 Jack Warner generously supported several areas of W&L.
Jonathan Westervelt “Jack” Warner, a trustee emeritus of Washington and Lee University and a member of the W&L Class of 1940, died Feb. 18, 2017. He was a few months shy of his 100th birthday.
Jack Warner generously supported several areas of W&L, including the early 1970s addition to Doremus Gym that became known as the Warner Center; the 1990s renovation of Lee Chapel and Museum; the Elizabeth and Jonathan W. Warner Scholarship; outdoor tennis facilities; and the Annual Fund. Warner was an accomplished swimmer who once held the school record in the breaststroke; he belonged to the W&L Athletic Hall of Fame. The university recognized his philanthropy by including his name among the first alumni featured on the Honored Benefactors Wall, in Washington Hall.
Jack Warner was born in Illinois on July 28, 1917, to Mildred Westervelt Warner and Herbert Warner. He was raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where his maternal grandfather’s company, Gulf States Paper, was based. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in Indiana in 1936, then earned a degree in business administration from Washington and Lee.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army (cavalry) as a commissioned officer with the MARS Task Force in the China-Burma-India Theaters of Operations.
After the service, Warner joined Gulf States Paper Corp. and was head of sales and production before being named executive vice president in 1950, president in 1957 and chairman of the board in 1959. In the latter two positions, he succeeded his mother, whose father, Herbert E. Westervelt, had invented a machine to produce folding, square-bottomed grocery bags. Warner stepped down as chairman of the board in 1994 to make way for his son, Jonathan Westervelt Warner Jr., a member of the W&L Class of 1967. The elder Warner remained a consultant with the company, which is now known as Westervelt Co.
During the more than 50 years he presided over Gulf States Paper, Jack Warner expanded it from a single factory and product to a diversified company with operations across five states. During his tenure, the company received multiple honors for water-pollution control efforts, including the National Wildlife Federation’s Whooping Crane Award. In 1970, he was Alabama’s Conservationist of the Year.
Warner was heavily involved in the Alabama community, serving as an officer or director of multiple commercial, banking, civic and philanthropic organizations. His numerous involvements and awards included positions as president and board chairman of the Alabama Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Alabama Great Southern Railway Co., and chairman of the board of the Alabama Council on Economic Education. He was a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor and was named Man of the Year by the Alabama Council of the National Management Association, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Culver Military Academy.
Warner contributed generously to a number of his favorite causes, including Washington and Lee University, Culver Military Academy, the University of Alabama (which awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1976), Auburn University, the United Way and the city of Tuscaloosa.
Warner served on the W&L Board of Trustees from 1970 to 1980 and in 1983. He left the board in 1983 to protest the growing momentum to admit women. Less than 20 years later, however, at Homecoming in 2002, he announced that he’d had a change of heart and presented the university with $1 million to fund scholarships primarily for women.
Alongside his business and civic involvements, Warner enjoyed many other passions. He was an avid swimmer, tennis player and horseback rider. In the 1960s and ’70s, he ran a stable of competitive Thoroughbreds. His horse Do Right was part of the U.S. show-jumping team that won a gold medal in the 1975 Pan American Games, and his favorite horse, Tuscaloosa, was part of the U.S. show-jumping team that won the bronze medal at the 1978 world championships.
In addition, he enjoyed the acres of gardens that surrounded his home. One of his gardens even included a two-tiered brick replica of a Buddhist temple he had seen while stationed in Burma during World War II, according to a 1988 article in Alabama Magazine by his late son, David Warner.
None of Warner’s interests were as intense and enduring, however, as his love of art. His collection began just after the war with the purchase of several Audubon prints for a few hundred dollars. Over the years, he amassed a large and impressive private collection of American art that included not only paintings, but also furniture and decorative objects. His painting collection eventually included works by such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Henri, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Frederic Church, Andrew Wyeth, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent.
He received the Frederic Edwin Church Award in 2010 for assembling his private art collection, part of which was displayed at his Westervelt Warner Museum of American Art from 2002 until 2011. The Tuscaloosa Museum of Art now houses the Westervelt Collection. In 2012, the Jack and Susan Warner Gallery, featuring works of the Hudson River School, opened in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Warner had a soft spot for paintings of George Washington, and he gave his alma mater the William Winstanley portrait of Washington that now hangs in W&L’s Leyburn Library. He also served as the honorary chair of the university’s 250th anniversary celebration.
Jack Warner was preceded in death by his first wife, Elizabeth Butler Warner; his son, David T. Warner; his parents; and two siblings, H. David Warner Jr. and Joan Warner VanZele. He is survived by his wife, Susan G.A. Warner; his sister, Helene Hibbard; his son, Jon Warner Jr.; three grandchildren and two stepsons.
Courtney Hauck: Creating Opportunities for Pre-Law Students Courtney Hauck helped organize the Public Interest Law Careers panel (Feb. 28), which she hopes will allow people to take a closer look at public interest law as it relates to a variety of nontraditional legal fields.
“As a pre-law student interested in global environmental health, I wanted to create an opportunity for public service-minded students to learn more about what a law degree could help them achieve.”
Courtney Hauck ’18 is a pre-law student and founder of the Roosevelt Institute at W&L. She has helped to organize a panel for other students with an interest in law. The Public Interest Law Career panel will take place from 7:15-8:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 in Stackhouse Theater. Panelists include Prof. David Bruck, Death Row Defense, Virginia Capital Case Clearing House, W&L Law; Gail Deady ’11L, Women’s Rights, Reproductive Rights & Gender Equality, ACLU of Virginia; Prof. Margaret Hu, Civil Rights, Immigration & Cybersecurity, W&L Law; Prof. J.D. King, Public Defense, W&L Law Criminal Justice Clinic; Elaine Poon, Civil Rights & Poverty Law, Legal Aid Justice Center; and Prof. Julie Youngman, Environmental Law, Southern Environmental Law Center, W&L.
Please visit LexLink Event ID 459 to learn more and RSVP for the event. And to learn more about Courtney, keep reading.
What is the Roosevelt Institute? When and how did it get started at W&L?
Roosevelt Institute is a non-partisan think tank founded in the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. W&L’s chapter is one among a national network housed under this think tank. Across the country, more than 100 campuses have established Roosevelt Institute chapters to “reimagine the rules,” a phrase that captures Roosevelt’s mission to inspire young people to rethink the systemic policies and practices that influence socioeconomic and political realities in the United States. I founded W&L’s chapter during fall of my sophomore year, after meeting current and former chapter heads from different universities at a “Young People For” fellowship training in Cleveland, Ohio.
What are some of the institute’s best accomplishments so far?
I have been very proud to see Roosevelt Institute grow at a fast pace over the past year and a half. We have increased from about 20 members last fall to over 70 this semester, and more importantly, our members have brought many diverse perspectives and ideas to the table. Our chapter submitted policy proposals to the 10 Ideas national policy competition last semester, including one that I wrote to establish a national pool of funds dedicated to corroded pipeline replacement in cities like Flint, Michigan. In addition, we have partnered with the Public Interest Law Students Association to create a “Know Your Rights” series on immigration, police interactions, and protests and demonstrations, which will take place over three consecutive Thursdays starting March 16. Public Interest Law Careers, which takes place in Stackhouse on Tuesday, February 28th (after Washington Break), is our first public event. I am very excited to see our chapter grow throughout the semester.
What gave you the idea to put together the Public Interest Law Careers panel?
As a pre-law student interested in global environmental health, I wanted to create an opportunity for public service-minded students to learn more about what a law degree could help them achieve. Of course, being a lawyer isn’t the only way to serve one’s community, but as we have seen through recent actions by the ACLU and other organizations, lawyers play an integral role in protecting civil liberties in the United States. I hope that this panel will allow people to take a closer look at public interest law as it relates to a variety of nontraditional legal fields.
How did you decide who to invite to speak on the panel?
It was very difficult to decide — we have many accomplished public interest lawyers in our community. To begin, I reached out to a few lawyers in our community with whose work I was more familiar. From there, I took suggestions regarding faculty and alumni from the law school who might be interested. Overall, my goal was to gather a group of accomplished, service-minded individuals in a variety of major legal disciplines — in that, I have succeeded. Among the incredible, generous people in and around our community, and I am excited to hear from just a few of these individuals on the 28th.
What were the greatest challenges to getting this event planned and scheduled?
Honestly, the greatest challenge was narrowing down choices for the panel! Our panelists have been very gracious to volunteer time out of their busy schedules, and the W&L staff and faculty have been extremely helpful in organizing the logistics for this event. In particular, Lorri Olán in Career Development has been a fantastic help with arranging communications, marketing, and catering for the panel and reception.
What can students expect to get out of this panel?
I expect that students will gain a lot from this event, including insight into the why and how of pursuing public interest law; advice from successful lawyers in fields such as public defense, environmental law, immigration, and gender equality/LGBT rights; and opportunities to build relationships with like-minded members of the W&L community, including students, staff, and faculty from the College and Law School.
Ingredients for Social Change A multi-disciplinary Community-Based Research project gave Washington and Lee University students a chance to help local organizations take a closer look at access to affordable healthy food.
“You think of [food] as something to eat and enjoy, but it is definitely bigger than that.”
— Tyra Barrett ’18
As Kyle Singerman ’17 drove the rural roads of Rockbridge County during Fall Term 2016, he began to understand a fact that had never occurred to him when he was growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland.
“Out in the country, there are really limited amounts of healthy food options,” he said. “If you live far away, are you really going to want to spend that time in the car going to the grocery store when you could just go up the street and buy a bag of Funyuns?”
While conducting research for a Washington and Lee University biology class, Singerman had experienced the concept of a “food desert,” or a geographic area that is devoid of healthy food options, such as fresh produce and unprocessed meats. It is the kind of lesson that can be taught in a classroom but is more vividly understood when students venture out for hands-on projects.
Singerman is one of many W&L students who have, since Spring Term 2016, been participating in a Community-Based Research project through the university’s Shepherd Program — specifically, through the Community-Academic Research Alliance, which pairs W&L students with non-profit organizations that need help addressing community needs.
Students in politics, biology and economics classes have participated in three phases of the project, working with the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Live Healthy Rockbridge Kids to assess food sources in the community, map them, and crunch the data for use in future initiatives. Live Healthy Rockbridge Kids, which is housed at Rockbridge Area Community Services, is a coalition funded by Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth with the goal of preventing and reducing childhood obesity in Virginia by improving access to healthy foods and increasing opportunities for physical activity.
“It’s been invaluable to have the students going out and doing that field work,” said Annie LePere, coordinator of Live Healthy Rockbridge Kids. “We could have done it, but it would have been difficult, and it would have taken longer. This was supposed to be a small project, but it has been able to grow because of their involvement, and I think they’ve enjoyed it and learned a lot about it.”
The idea for the project came up when LePere and Rebecca Wilder, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent and a partner in the coalition, were working on a grant application for continued funding from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. “We felt that we did not know enough about the food landscape to design any project to change it,” LePere said. So, they wrote a food source-mapping project into the application. Then, they connected with Alessandra Del Conte Dickovick in W&L’s Shepherd Program.
“Alessandra has been great in getting folks to help us with this project,” Wilder said.
In the first project phase, students in Rebecca Harris’ Spring Term class, Food Politics, created a list of all the businesses in the Rockbridge County area that sell food, including grocery stores, convenience stores, dollar stores, restaurants, farmers markets and food pantries. The class then mapped the locations, which allowed Wilder and LePere to confirm that most of those resources are clustered in Lexington and Buena Vista, leaving rural areas of Rockbridge County with few sources for nutritious food.
The second phase of the project focused on collecting more in-depth, qualitative data at grocery stores, convenience stores and dollar stores to get a more detailed look at food access. Singerman and Tyra Barrett ’18, both students in Sarah Blythe’s Fall Term class, Food for Thought, divided the list and visited each location in person. Between the two of them, they visited close to 60 stores.
With business owners’ consent, the students filled out a one-page survey at each location that evaluated inventory and prices. The form, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate nutrition guide, was developed by researchers at Virginia Tech in collaboration with LePere and Wilder. It allowed them to record the availability of products like fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and whole-grain foods. They also documented prices whenever possible. “The second question we want to try to answer is if it is available, can you actually afford it?” LePere said.
To that end, Jonah Mackay ’17, an economics major and poverty studies minor, will do additional analysis using that pricing information. He will determine how much it would cost to purchase a predetermined selection of products, or a “market basket,” in different parts of Rockbridge County. That will help researchers drill down to locations in the county that score lowest in terms of affordable access to healthy food. Mackay plans to wrap up his work by the end of Spring Term.
Virginia Tech will work with Wilder and LePere to establish a rating system for the stores that were surveyed. The purpose of this system and the other resulting data is not to publicly broadcast where stores fell on the spectrum, but to use the information to inform the need for additional programs and actions.
For example, Wilder would like to help some store owners determine whether they can stock more nutritious items — low-salt canned beans instead of the standard version, for example — without losing sales. She recognizes that store owners cannot stock a product that does not interest buyers. Other resources include shelf signage to educates shoppers about the benefits of healthy foods, or exterior signage that promotes fresh produce instead of alcohol and cigarettes.
“What we are doing right now is a needs assessment,” Wilder said. “What does our community look like and what are the needs before we can figure out what to do moving forward?”
LePere will focus more on community awareness and education, which is why she had Barrett and Singerman work on social media for her organization and develop a pamphlet for consumers.
As is the case with all Community-Based Research projects set up through the Shepherd Program, the food desert collaboration has been beneficial for all parties involved. In this case, community partners saved considerable time and resources, and the students came away with a different outlook on food.
“It definitely gives me a different perspective,” Barrett said. “You think of it as something to eat and enjoy, but it is definitely bigger than that. Now, I’m seeing food as multidimensional.”
W&L, VMI Host Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ginsburg’s visit was a year in the making and came 20 years after she penned the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, the landmark case that struck down VMI’s male-only admissions policy.
“Her contributions to social justice and gender equality have been profound. Her promotion of gender equality rights — as a skilled and strategic litigator, as a pioneering teacher and mentor, and as a careful and visionary jurist — has been life-changing for generations of women who came after her.”
— Johanna Bond, associate dean, W&L School of Law
A joint effort between Washington and Lee University School of Law and Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday brought Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Lexington, where she addressed an audience of thousands in the morning, and had law students lining up three hours in advance for a private Q&A session in the afternoon.
During both events, the 83-year-old associate justice balanced comments about American jurisprudence and her lengthy, transformative legal career with charming anecdotes about her personal life, ultimately reinforcing her lifelong message that men and women of all political and cultural stripes can have a profound impact on the world around them.
“I would say this to all young lawyers, men as well as women,” Ginsburg told the law students. “Whatever you do in the law, do in addition something you are passionate about, whether it is gender equality or the environment, discrimination or free speech — do something outside yourself that will make things a little better for people who are less fortunate than you are.”
Ginsburg’s visit was a year in the making and came 20 years after she penned the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, the landmark case that struck down VMI’s male-only admissions policy. At VMI’s 3,800-capacity Cameron Hall, which was nearly full on Wednesday morning, Ginsburg recalled that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s lone dissenting opinion in the case opened with the declaration that admitting women would destroy VMI.
“I knew it wouldn’t. It would make VMI a better place,” Ginsburg told the crowd, which erupted in applause.
Today, VMI’s student body is about 11 percent female. The VMI community seemed to enjoy Ginsburg’s talk, said school spokesman Stewart MacInnis on Thursday. “Women cadets, especially, say they appreciated Justice Ginsburg’s remarks and the impact she has had on their lives. Several of them told me they didn’t really understand until this event the controversy surrounding the decision in the societal context of the latter half of the 20th century.”
One of the most poignant moments of the morning came when Ginsburg told the story of a VMI pin she wore on her pewter-colored jacket. Shortly after the case was decided, she said, a VMI graduate mailed the pin to her with a letter explaining that the pins were given to the mothers of all VMI graduates. His mother had passed away, and he wanted Ginsburg to have the pin.
Ginsburg read from the letter: “In an abstract way, you will be mother to the first graduating class of VMI women … Be sure to wear it proudly any time, but especially if you are ever invited to VMI.”
The woman affectionately nicknamed “RBG” by fans can relate to being one of few women in a class of men. Of her time at Harvard Law School, where she was only one of nine female students in a class of about 500, she said, “you felt you were constantly on display. If you failed or didn’t perform well, you felt you were failing not only for yourself, but for all women.”
Ginsburg was anything but a failure there, making the Harvard Law Review at a time when she was also supporting her husband through cancer treatments and helping to raise their toddler daughter. Despite the challenges, she said, “there was a balance to my life that many students didn’t have. Each part of my life, I thought, was a respite from the other.”
After lunch at Lee House, the W&L president’s residence, Ginsburg held a private Q&A in the Millhiser Moot Court Room at the W&L Law School. She was accompanied, as she had been at VMI, by her two longtime biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, both Georgetown Law professors.
About 140 students and faculty filled the courtroom while more than 200 watched a livestream of the session in nearby classrooms. Students had submitted questions in advance, and faculty selected 15 to pose their questions to Justice Ginsburg. Topics included diversity in the legal community, international law, the media’s interpretation of Supreme Court decisions, and the qualities she hopes to see in the next Supreme Court justice. The last question came just one day after President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch for the seat left vacant after Scalia’s death last year.
“I’d say it takes a readiness to work really hard – this is the hardest job I’ve ever had – it takes a tremendous amount of reading, and then thinking and writing,” she said. “And if you are part of a collegial court, [it takes] a willingness to listen to your colleagues, because on the Supreme Court if you are writing for the court, you are not writing for yourself, you are writing for others. So you have to present the views of the consensus, not what you might do alone if you were queen. So collegiality is a very, very important part of the way the court works — and a sense of humor really helps.”
Throughout the day, Ginsburg talked about her famous friendship with Scalia, who usually disagreed with her on an ideological basis. Professionally, she said, he made her a better judge because he helped her to identify the weak spots in her arguments. Personally, they bonded over their love of family and the opera. “I miss him very much,” she said. “Without him, the court is a paler place because he brought so much zest to our discussions.”
At the law school, students were impressed to be in the presence of a Supreme Court justice. Ginsburg’s work with the Association of American Law Schools and American Bar Association played a role in making the school coeducational in the 1970s.
“I admire Justice Ginsburg because she has always broken through glass ceilings,” said third-year law student Tejkaran Bains. “We both come from immigrant families. Justice Ginsburg was one of only nine women on her class. I am the only Sikh person in my law school and the only person who wears a turban. It was so inspiring and surreal to see Justice Ginsburg.”
Rebecca Varghese, also a third-year law student, said she was most impressed by Ginsburg’s comments about disagreeing in a manner that is at once direct and civil. Varghese said that’s important in this age of polarization in both the political and legal spheres. “This adversarial system can isolate other viewpoints, and I think her message of advocating inclusiveness while still remaining appropriately assertive was an apt takeaway for me.”
To watch the Q&A with Justice Ginsburg at the Washington and Lee School of Law, click here.
Packing a Nutritious Punch Sejal Mistry ’17, a biology major and poverty studies minor, has completed a service project that aims to improve the nutritional value of foods in the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee’s Backpack Program.
“I think as a student I have taken food for granted. I’m realizing how much it was a privilege to sit down with my family for a freshly cooked meal.”
— Sejal Mistry ’17
When Sejal Mistry ’17 was still living at home, she didn’t have to think very long or hard about dinnertime. Food was placed on the table, she was called to supper, and she tore herself away from her phone and her schoolwork to join her family for a meal.
“I think as a student I have taken food for granted,” Mistry said. “I’m realizing how much it was a privilege to sit down with my family for a freshly cooked meal.”
Mistry’s involvement on the leadership team for the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee is partially responsible for her changing perspective on food. But a biology class and a community-based research (CBR) project also have opened her eyes to the importance of variety and quality in a person’s daily diet.
The class is Professor Sarah Blythe’s Food for Thought, which examines nutrition and metabolism as they relate to neuroscience. To fulfill the service-learning requirement for the class, Mistry took on a project that analyzes the nutritional value of the foods used in the Campus Kitchen’s Backpack Program. Her findings may lead Campus Kitchen coordinator Jenny Davidson to reassess the makeup of the snack packs, which are sent home every weekend with more than 700 local elementary- and middle school-aged children.
The kids who receive the backpacks are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The program, established in 2009, is meant to ensure that they have enough snacks to get them through the weekend.
The backpacks, which are packed by volunteers and delivered to schools every Thursday, typically contain at least seven food items, such as cereal, oatmeal, applesauce, snack crackers, fruit gummies and — in the case of older children — cans of soup. The program is primarily funded through grants and fundraisers, and most of the food is purchased from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and US Foods. The current budget is $1.50 per backpack.
For some time, Davidson has wanted to take a closer look at the foods used in the program in order to determine whether they are providing the maximum possible nutrition for the price. Mistry’s project dovetailed nicely with that goal.
“I think the hope is that we can be giving the best bang for the buck for our clients,” Davidson said. “We want to make sure that what we provide them is as nutritious as possible.”
Mistry is a biology major and a Bonner Scholar who is minoring in poverty and human capability studies. The class also counts as a poverty credit and fulfills a requirement of the Bonner Program.
For the project, she created a spreadsheet with nutritional information and a cost analysis. Davidson will use the information to determine whether new products should be substituted for those commonly used in the backpacks.
One of Mistry’s preliminary findings was that fortified foods, such as cereal and oatmeal, will continue to provide the most vitamins and minerals at the lowest price. While it would be nice to include fresh fruits and vegetables in the backpacks, it is not feasible from a financial or logistical standpoint.
Mistry also noted that some products should be reconsidered based on their sugar or fat content. Fruit gummies are popular with kids and contain less total sugar than applesauce, but the sweetener in applesauce is natural sugar. “So it’s taking those little things into account,” she said.
Of course, just because a food is nutritious doesn’t mean elementary-aged children, the primary focus of Mistry’s project, will want to eat it. There’s no sense in spending money on food and sending it home with children if it will only go to waste. Now that Mistry has completed her data, Campus Kitchen Outreach Coordinator Chris Caplinger is surveying program clients to determine which products are popular with children and which are not.
All of this research and thought will go into improving a program that so many students in Lexington and Rockbridge County schools depend on. Mollie Robinson, a counselor at Central Elementary School in Lexington, said she discreetly distributes backpacks to 80 or 90 students each week.
“The children definitely get a lot out of it,” she said. “It is a huge blessing for the families.”
Want to support the Backpack Program while enjoying delicious soup prepared by area chefs? Don’t miss the 5th Annual Souper Bowl on Jan. 29. For more information, click here.
Fuchs Earns Leadership Role with American Ceramic Circle Washington and Lee’s ceramics expert, Ron Fuchs, has been named chairman of the board of the American Ceramic Circle.
“Ceramics are a great vehicle for learning about people.”
— Ron Fuchs
Ron Fuchs, curator of ceramics and manager of the Reeves Center at Washington and Lee University, has been named chairman of the board for the American Ceramic Circle, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the study and appreciation of ceramics.
The American Ceramic Circle is one of the foremost groups in the country for collectors, dealers and professionals in the area of ceramics. Fuchs has previously served as president of the organization, and as a board member.
“I am very honored and touched and still kind of surprised,” he said of his new post. “It is an organization that was very helpful to me in providing a community, peers, and the chance to see other objects and collections.”
From a young age, Fuchs was interested in the study of archaeology. He majored in history and anthropology at William & Mary, where he began to see how important ceramics are to our understanding of the past. Because of their durability, ceramics can survive underground for long periods of time; as a result, they are often some of the most fascinating and informative objects discovered during archaeological digs. In graduate school at the University of Delaware, Fuchs found himself drawn to the study of whole, intact pieces in a museum setting.
“Ceramics are a great vehicle for learning about people,” he said. “I think a lot are beautiful and I’m interested in how they were made, but I’m more interested in how they were used and what they say about the people who used and collected them.”
Fuchs came to W&L in 2008, after 10 years at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. His work as chairman of the board for the American Ceramic Circle will last for a two-year period. In addition to supporting scholarships and promoting the study of ceramics, he will help to plan and execute annual conferences and a biennial journal.
For more information about The Reeves Collection at Washington and Lee, click here.