Feature Stories Campus Events

Duchossois Center: Pictures of Progress As construction continues on W&L's new, state-of-the-art Richard L. Duchossois Center for Athletics and Recreation, we offer a virtual tour—no hard hat required!

Construction on the Richard L. Duchossois Center for Athletics and Recreation

Click here to begin your scroll-through of construction on the Richard L. Duchossois Center for Athletics and Recreation, which is scheduled for completion in summer 2020.

Stay tuned to our website for future updates on this journey toward the finish line.

A Book Fit for Royals Washington and Lee's Special Collections is an educational resource fit for a queen, but this 543-year-old book really has royal connections.

Provenance, the fancy French word that roughly translates to “pedigree” or “who owned it,” often plays a major role in determining the rarity of an item. Certainly that is true for the earliest printed piece housed in Washington and Lee’s Special Collections. Known as an “incunable” (any work printed before 1501), Washington and Lee’s copy of a Latin text entitled “Historiae Adversus Paganos” (“Histories Against the Pagans”), published in Vicenza, Italy in 1475, is exceedingly rare in its own right. However, the ownership by not one, but two, British royals makes the Special Collections copy almost totally unique.

Although the text of our volume is hand-set type printed in 1475, the binding is an exquisite custom-designed red Moroccan leather binding with gold tooling likely done in the latter quarter of the 18th century. The front and back covers of this beautiful piece bear the coat-of-arms of George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), a Whig member of Parliament who held various political offices during his long and distinguished career. Spencer was also noted for his interest in literature and early examples of printing. When Napoleon instigated the secularization of religious houses in South Germany, Spencer acquired many rare books and manuscripts. Hence his ownership of this religious work, which is a fine example of pre-Gutenberg Press printing. Spencer’s library of tens of thousands of volumes was sold at auction in the late 19th century. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, was descended from the Spencer royal family.

The inside of the front cover bears evidence of a second royal ownership. Neatly centered in an endboard adorned with hand-colored French marbled endpapers is the coat of arms of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). It is not evident in the record how the Duke of Sussex, nearly a contemporary of Earl Spencer, acquired the book from Spencer’s library. Prince Frederick was the son of George III and was born at Buckingham House in London. The Duke of Sussex was known for rebelling against royal traditions. Indeed, it was his liberal political views that fully estranged him from his father for much of his life. Not only did he advocate for Catholic emancipation, the removal of restrictions on Jews and dissenters, and parliamentary reform, but he also supported the abolition of slave trade.

He was president of the Royal Society between 1830 and 1838, and had a keen interest in biblical studies and Hebrew. His personal library contained over 50,000 theological works. The title of Duke of Sussex was bestowed upon him by his father in 1801. He was married twice, each time in contravention to the Royal Marriages Act, and neither union was recognized by his father. By his first marriage, he had two children, but since neither was recognized as legitimate, the title of Duke of Sussex became extinct on his death in 1843.

In a remarkable contemporary twist on this story of royal legacy, on May 19, 2018, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the royal titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the morning before their wedding. While Meghan Markle is the first Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry becomes the second Duke of Sussex after Prince Augustus Frederick. It is not known whether the queen considered Prince Augustus Frederick’s anti-slavery advocacy when choosing the title for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It is quite fitting, however, for the royal couple, considering all the ways that both Harry and Meghan have used their royal and celebrity status for advocacy and charity.

Related //,

Quick Hit: Festival of Lights Washington and Lee recently held its biggest-ever celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

‘A Big Optimist’ Lewis Perkins '93, the self-described “liberal arts kid” who received the Distinguished Alumnus Award at his 25th reunion in April, nurtured his creative spirit at W&L. Now he brings that spirit to a nonprofit that encourages sustainability.

Lewis Perkins ’93

“I was totally the liberal arts kid, and that was a reflection of the kid I was when I was growing up. I like art, theater and music. I enjoyed being creative, and now I do that with business strategy.”

~ Lewis Perkins ’93

A Mindful Career

“It was like reading the gospel,” says Lewis Perkins of the moment he learned how Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute helps companies rethink design and manufacture to make a positive impact on the environment.

Perkins joined the institute in 2012 as senior vice president and took over as president in 2015. “I thought this was the answer,” he says of that realization. “This was giving back to society. It was a whole system plan for the planet. We have known all along that everything needs to be made with mindfulness. It made sense.”

Perkins had long wanted to help companies “find their soul.” He had that epiphany after seeing how some institutions practiced philanthropy to counteract a problem they were causing. “They were saying, OK, we are creating unintentional negative impacts, but our goodwill will override that,” he says.

Cradle to Cradle boasts about 300 companies and over 6,000 product types. “We believe in investing in people and in local communities where the product is made,” Perkins says. “We are like the LEED certificate program for products. We provide the framework and train consultants to do the work.”

Creative Spirit

His work involves a great deal of creativity. “I was a high-energy, creative kid that didn’t want to sit still,” he says. Perkins cultivated that spirit at W&L. He’s a proud son of the South, born in Tallahassee, Florida. Along with his brother, John Perkins ’90, he knew about the university because of two Tallahassee alumni, Judge Robert P. Smith Jr. ’54 and his son, Todd Smith ’83. When Perkins visited John on Parents and Family Weekends, the university felt like home.

As a first-year, he took studio art and psychology. “I was always interested in human nature,” he says. “I was totally the liberal arts kid, and that was a reflection of the kid I was when I was growing up. I like art, theater and music. I enjoyed being creative, and now I do that with business strategy.”

After graduating with a B.A. in art, he became interested in philanthropy, and worked for Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and for W&L, on a capital campaign. Perkins, who holds an M.B.A. with a focus on social responsibility from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, also logged several years with Mohawk Industries as director of sustainable strategies.

‘A Big Optimist’

Today he travels the world nonstop. “I spend as much time at our office in Amsterdam as I do at our headquarters in San Francisco,” he says. “For me, it’s about being around a diverse set of people, thinking about solutions at the larger level for the planet. It’s talking about a world where all systems are connected, and there is no isolation. I love being with people who think like I do and are optimistic. I’m a big optimist.”

One of the things he loves about W&L is the broad worldview he experienced in classes and with peers and friends. “It was a like-minded community, and it’s been fun to stay in touch, to see how we have all expanded,” he says. “There was a sense of duty and honor that came from W&L. One of the reasons I got into this job was because I saw injustice. W&L instilled principles, honor and values in all of us.”

If you know a W&L alumnus who would be a great profile subject, tell us about it! Nominate them for a web profile.

More about Lewis

FAVORITE PROFESSOR: The late Sidney M.B. Coulling III ’46, the S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English Emeritus. “He was amazing. Even though he didn’t always give me a good grade on papers, he taught me how to write. Between him and Pam Hemenway Simpson, my adviser and head of the Art Department, I learned a lot.”

MEMORABLE CLASS: Chaos Theory. “I remember writing my paper on Jackson Pollock because of the random way he chose to create. That left an impression on me.”

FUN ACTIVITY: Southern Comfort, the a cappella group. “Some of my best friends were in Southern Comfort.”

Related //,

A W&L Experience, Reprised Morgan Luttig '14, who studied vocal performance and education at W&L, has returned as visiting instructor of music while Professor Shane Lynch is on sabbatical.

Morgan Luttig ’14

“In my opinion, there is nothing quite as authentic and meaningful as humans using their own instruments in a choral ensemble.”

~ Morgan Luttig ’14

Major: Music – Vocal Performance
Minor: Education
Hometown: Lake Forest, Illinois

What have you been up to since you graduated from W&L in 2014?

After graduating from W&L I moved to Savannah, Georgia, where I taught pre-K through 12th grade music at St. Andrew’s School. In that position I was the choral director for 3rd through 12th grade choral ensembles, and I also taught general music for 3-year olds, kindergarten, and 2nd grade. I also acted as music director for the lower school and upper school musicals, and led a cross-divisional a cappella group at the school. Outside of teaching I sang with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus, iCantori Vocal Ensemble and a church choir. While in Savannah I had the opportunity to be a conducting fellow with the Savannah Children’s Choir, and Assistant Artistic Director for RISE Chorales, a new young women’s chorale in Savannah.

During my third year of teaching, I began my master’s degree work at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. I completed my degree in Princeton the following academic year. I went to school for a master of music education – choral emphasis degree and was a music education graduate assistant, teaching 6th grade general music at the local middle school. While doing my master’s work, I made sure to continue my work with children’s choirs, acting as a conducting fellow for the Princeton Girlchoir and Princeton Boychoir and Associate Conductor for the Westminster Neighborhood Children’s Choir. It has been a busy few years!

What made you decide to embark on a career in vocal music?

I actually decided to pursue choral music as a career when my family moved to Lake Forest, Illinois, right before I started high school. Previously we were located in Virginia, and I was determined to enter the journalism program in my local high school. However, my new school did not have a journalism program, so instead I elected to be in choir. I’ve been in choirs for as long as I can remember, but it was in those high school ensembles that I truly fell in love with ensemble singing. I’ve been fortunate to have amazing conducting opportunities in high school and beyond. I’ve found unbelievable power in choral music, not only for those who are singing, but also for audiences. In my opinion, there is nothing quite as authentic and meaningful as humans using their own instruments in a choral ensemble.

Morgan Luttig ’14 conducts the W&L University Singers during Fall Convocation 2018.

How did W&L prepare you for your choice of careers?

I could not have asked for a more personalized education at Washington and Lee. Professor Shane Lynch helped prepare me for my career in choral music education with individual attention and guidance that has made a world of difference in my teaching. Dr. Lynch brought me in as part of the Choral Conducting Mentorship Program, where he mentored me not only as an educator but as an ensemble conductor. W&L provided me the opportunity to conduct all choral ensembles throughout my time as a student, which is a unique element of the program.

In addition, the teacher education program at W&L, under the guidance of professors Lenna Ojure and Haley Sigler, was instrumental in my future career. Opportunities to student teach and participate in urban education classes, as well as being active in classrooms in Rockbridge County and beyond, were some of the highlights of the W&L education program.

Did anyone at W&L serve as a mentor to you when you were a student? If so, who and how?

My greatest mentor at W&L was Professor Lynch, the director of choral activities. He took a chance on me when I was a high school student visiting campus, and he spoke with me about the opportunities I could have at W&L as part of the Choral Conducting Mentorship Program. I would not be where I am today without him. He mentored me throughout my time here at W&L, and never lost touch while I was teaching Pre-K-12, and we continued to keep in touch throughout my master’s studies. Now, he and the rest of the music faculty and W&L administration have taken a leap of faith in bringing me back to take his position while he is on sabbatical this year. It is such an honor to be here. I could never replace him and the enormous impact that he’s had on this campus, but I love working with the choirs during my time here!

What exciting things are in the works for the groups you are conducting during the remainder of this academic year?

We have such an exciting year ahead! We have performed two full-length concerts already, one for Parents and Family Weekend, and the other being our Annual Fall Choral Concert. Coming up, Cantatrici and the Men’s Glee Club will perform alongside the instrumental ensembles at the Holiday Pops Performances on December 3 and 4. The University Singers will perform next for the Annual Candlelight Lessons and Carols Service on December 6.

One exciting part of the year is that the University Singers will travel to Scotland in April for an international choir tour. Part of the focus of this year’s choral studies is audience engagement and how we can utilize different pieces, performance techniques and movement to engage audiences of all ages and communities. This focus appears in the international tour program’s four sectionstogetherness and separation, prayer and reflection, Scottish Traditions, and American Essences of Home. Each element of the tour set challenges the ensemble, expanding across time periods and styles.

All choral ensembles, including Cantatrici, The Men’s Glee Club, and University Singers will perform at SSA in March, as well as within their own individual concerts during Winter Term.

What is it like to stand on the other side of that conductor’s podium?

There are no words that could truly describe how strange, amazing and humbling it is to be on the conductor’s podium in front of the W&L choral ensembles. When I stood on the podium as a student conductor during my time here, I never could have imagined being fully in charge of these ensembles as their director. I’m continually blown away by the caliber of students, singers and musicians we have here at Washington and Lee. The choral students dedicate so much of themselves to this program, and that is something that Professor Lynch has developed throughout his tenure. From first-years through seniors, these students love choir in a way that is so much stronger even since my time here. It is truly an honor to stand in front of these students.

Morgan Luttig ’14 steps comfortably into the role of conductor while Professor Shane Lynch is on sabbatical.
Related //,

W&L Presents 2018 Holiday Pops Concert Tickets may be obtained by trading a non-perishable food item to benefit Campus Kitchen at W&L.

Holiday Pops Concert

Washington and Lee University presents its annual Holiday Pops Concert on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. Both concerts, which will be identical, will be performed in Wilson Concert Hall on the W&L campus. The performance features ensemble groups from the Department of Music performing pieces that celebrate the holiday season. The program will include individual group performances, massed ensemble pieces and a variety of student conductors.

This year, W&L is encouraging the spirit of giving within our community by requiring patrons to exchange one non-perishable good for each Holiday Pops ticket. All goods collected will be donated to Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee, an organization that recovers and reuses food to provide balanced meals for low-income members of the Rockbridge County community.

The concert will also be streamed live online here.

Tickets must be obtained in person at the Lenfest Box Office during regular hours. They will be available Nov. 26 through showtime each night (while supplies last). Box Office hours are Monday- Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. For more information, call 540-458-8000.

Related //,

A 345-Year-Old Bestseller “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China" tells the story of a trade delegation sent from the Dutch East India Company to China in 1655-57.

Illustration from “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China.”

Today, if you want to learn about China, you have many choices; a Google search yields 135,000,000 hits in less than a second, and if you want a hard copy, Leyburn Library at Washington and Lee has over 9,000 books on the subject. In the 17th century, your choices were far more limited. This book, “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China,” was one of the few available, and was considered by many to be the best.

It is actually an English translation of Johan Nieuhof’s “Het Gezandtschap der Neêrlandtsche Oost-Indische Compagnie, aan den grooten Tartarischen Cham, den tegenwoordigen Keizer van China.” First published in the Netherlands in 1665, it is an account of a trade delegation sent from the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the Dutch East India Company) to Shunzhi, the emperor of China, in 1655-57.

The Dutch East India Company, which was often known by its initials VOC, had been founded in 1602 and had a monopoly on Dutch trade with Asia (which in 17th-century Europe was known as “the Indies”). One of the first joint-stock companies in existence, the VOC helped create the modern global economy, building a trade network that linked Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas. It also helped popularize and commercialize a wide range of Asian products, such as spices, silk, cotton, porcelain and tea, to European and American consumers.

Illustration from “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China,”

The company had been acquiring Chinese goods via Chinese traders who brought them to VOC trading settlements in Taiwan and Indonesia, but wanted direct access to China itself. Eschewing violence and intimidation (tactics they used often to force trading concessions in other parts of Asia), they opted for negotiation, and sent a trade delegation, or “embassy,” as they referred to it, to Beijing.

The delegation was led by two merchants, Pieter de Goyer and Jacob Keijser, who were accompanied by four other merchants, six servants, a surgeon, a steward, a drummer and trumpeter, the last two no doubt to assist in making a grand entrance. The trip from the Dutch settlement of Batavia in Indonesia to Beijing and back took almost two years. Diplomatically and economically it was not a success; the Chinese refused to allow Dutch merchants to trade in Chinese ports. It did, however, lead to the production of this book, which was written by the delegation’s steward, Johan Nieuhof (1618-1672).

Nieuhof, who had previously worked for the Dutch West Indian Company in Brazil, was instructed to make a written and pictorial record of the delegation’s trip through China. He saw it as an “opportunity to make a more exact Discovery of the Genius and Manners of the People, and Customs of the Place, and Countrys supposed by all Geographers to be the richest in the World.”

In addition to 431 pages of text that touched on China’s geography, government, religion, economy and history, the book was illustrated with over 150 engravings “taken from life” that provided “accurate Maps and Sketches, not only of the Countreys and Towns, but also of Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Plants.” Among the illustrations were depictions of Chinese cities like the port of Guangzhou and the capital, Beijing; monuments like the porcelain pagoda at Nanjing and the Great Wall (which he did not actually see); and one of the earliest depictions of a tea plant to be published in Europe.

Though Nieuhof claimed that he had provided “an accurate description of the Chinese cities, villages, government, sciences, crafts, customs, religions, buildings, costumes, ships, mountains, crops, animals etc…,” in reality his observations were combined with accounts by earlier European missionaries. Many of the illustrations were embellished with people, animals and ships to make the scenes more exotic and visually appealing than his original on-site sketches.

Despite these flaws, Nieuhof’s “Embassy” was one of the most comprehensive, accurate and lavishly illustrated books on China published in 17th-century Europe. It was a bestseller, going through 14 editions in five languages (Dutch, French, German, English and Latin) by 1700, and was avidly read by merchants, armchair travelers and manufacturers, who mined its illustrations for designs for paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics.

The original edition was translated, or “English’d,” as the title page attests, from the Dutch by the London-based cartographer and publisher John Ogilby (1600-1676) in 1669. Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677), a Prague-born etcher who worked in London, copied the illustrations. The English translation proved so popular that a second edition, of which this book is an example, was published in 1673.

This particular copy is inscribed on the flyleaf “Mary Curtis 1911.” This is probably the Mary Curtis born in 1878 (date of death unknown). She was the sister of Francis Gardner Curtis (1868-1915), a painter, Asian scholar and curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in the early 20th century. Mary shared her brother’s interest in Asia. From her, the book passed to her niece, Helen Coolidge, and from her to her son, Francis Coolidge. It was gifted to the Reeves Center in his honor by his wife, Marylouise, and their two daughters, Lucy Coolidge and Georgina Coolidge ’08.

Illustration from “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China,”

Fourth Mudd Lecturer Talks Bioculture of Ethics and Identity Rebecca M. Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist, is the fourth speaker in the 2017-18 “Ethics of Identity” series.

Rebecca Jordan-Young

Rebecca M. Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist, is the fourth speaker in the 2017-18 “Ethics of Identity” series, sponsored by the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics at Washington and Lee University. Her public lecture is Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. in the Hillel Multipurpose Room on the W&L campus.

The title of her talk, which is free and open to the public, is “Thinking Bioculturally About Identity and Ethics.”

Jordan-Young’s research focuses on sex, gender and sexuality, as well as the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS. She is the Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars and the chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College.

Jordan-Young completed her undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr College before going on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University. She has served as principal investigator and deputy director of the Social Theory Core at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research of the National Development and Research Institutes, and as a health disparities scholar sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. In 2008, she was a visiting scholar in cognitive neuroscience at the International School for Advanced Studies.

Her book, “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences,” is a critical analysis of scientific research supporting the theory that psychological sex differences in humans are “hard-wired” into the brain. She argues that studies of “human brain organization theory” fail to meet scientific standards.

“Jordan-Young’s work asks fascinating and important questions about the brain and the unfolding of a person’s identity,” said Brian Murchison, director of the Mudd Center. “Her book challenges accepted understandings of the influence of early hormone exposures, and she asks whether a range of studies are actually consistent with the scientific method. Her talk will add another dimension to this year’s Mudd Center theme, which explores human identity in its various facets.”

In 2016, Jordan-Young was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on a book on testosterone, “T: The Unauthorized Biography,” with co-author Katrina Karkazis.

The Mudd Center was established in 2010 through a gift to the university from award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, a 1950 graduate of W&L. When he made his contribution, Mudd said that “given the state of ethics in our current culture, this seems a fitting time to endow a center for the study of ethics, and my university is the fitting home.”

For full details on this series, visit the Mudd Center webpage.

No Stone Unscrubbed Members of the W&L Outing Club spent a recent Saturday cleaning graffiti from rocks at Devil’s Marbleyard.

Members of the Washington and Lee Outing Club clean graffiti at Devil’s Marbleyard. Photo by Tommy Willingham ’19.

Washington and Lee’s Outing Club might keep a schedule packed with fun events, but it isn’t all about sunset hikes, kayaking trips and dog walks. On Nov. 3, eight members of the club hit the road for a popular local hiking spot to address a problem that contrasts sharply with OC values: graffiti.

Over the past several years, Devil’s Marbleyard, a stunning geological feature located about 20 miles from W&L, has been beset by vandals. They spray-paint their inane messages on the massive white boulders that make up the rock field where Marbleyard fans love to jump, climb, bask in the sun, and enjoy panoramic views of the valley below.

“I went out there for the first time during peak fall foliage two years ago and it is just absolutely gorgeous,” said Tommy Willingham ’19, who has been an OC trip leader for two years. “It is a really cool spot and you get a great view of the valley looking out from the Marbleyard. It’s so accessible but also so unique.”

View from Devil’s Marbleyard. Photo by Tommy Willingham ’19.

He said the fact that people feel the need to mar that pristine beauty with spray paint is sad. “We had a lot of conversation about that and people found it pretty difficult to understand, but people spray paint graffiti in a lot of natural areas. I see it a lot. It’s amazing that someone goes out and does it, but they do.”

What makes it worse at Devil’s Marbleyard, he said, is that it’s a challenging spot to clean. “When people graffiti rocks off Route 60 up by the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is easier to clean than in a wilderness area where you can’t use any motorized equipment.” In this case, volunteers had to use battery-powered pressure washers and haul their own water in backpacks typically used by firemen to battle wilderness blazes.

Outing Club members hike to Devil’s Marbleyard with water and sprayers.

The OC’s graffiti clean-up was organized through Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), an Asheville, North Carolina-based conservation nonprofit that looks after protected public lands in the Southern Appalachian territory of Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. The nonprofit frequently works with college groups on service projects such as this; in fact, Virginia Tech’s Outdoor Club recently sent members to remove graffiti at the Marbleyard, as well.

The W&L Outing Club’s relationship with the group dates to 2017, when W&L Director of Outdoor Education and Recreation James Dick invited a representative of SAWS to Lexington to speak to Appalachian Adventure trip leaders. After that connection, the OC did a few trips with SAWS; the graffiti clean-up was another of these co-sponsored outings.

On Nov. 3, volunteers left W&L for the Marbleyard about 9 a.m., then spent about six hours cleaning rocks. They used a chemical called Elephant Snot, which is applied to the painted areas, worked in with a wire brush, and allowed to sit in the sun for a half-hour before it is sprayed off. Additional elbow grease is used to scrub away remnants of Elephant Snot and paint.

Willingham said he and other volunteers felt good about being able to remove two large spots of graffiti that were located in high-traffic areas at Devil’s Marbleyard. It is his hope that the OC will be able to partner with SAWS for graffiti-removal trips on a monthly basis. That kind of outdoor community service also fulfills the requirement of some grants awarded to the Outing Club, such as a recent Outdoor Nation grant for $1,500.

Beth Ann Townsend ’21, who went on the recent trip, said it was an exhausting day but “such a reward watching the graffiti disappear from the rocks. We couldn’t understand how someone could look out from the Marbleyard over the autumn mountains and choose to deface that beauty. We helped return the ‘wild’ to the wilderness — and got a great hike in at the same time.”

Bringing Everyone to the Table Ben Capouya '20 interviews Victoria Kumpuris Brown '98 about her career in food policy and health at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Health equity should be at the center of all exploration and new efforts here, making sure that new ideas and solutions are accessible for all and not just a smaller sub-component of the population.”

~ Victoria Kumpuris Brown ’98

Editor’s note: In this series, “Living the Shepherd Dream,” current students in the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability at Washington and Lee interview alumni of the program who are working in a field that interests both. Look for installments in this series once a month on The Columns.

Ben Capouya ’20

Ben Capouya ’20, a business administration major and a poverty and human capabilities studies minor, does not know exactly how his postgraduate path will unfold. Last summer, Ben worked at the Atlanta Community Food Bank in Atlanta, Georgia. There, he helped the community garden department lead volunteer groups at the food bank’s donation gardens, as well as expand the impact of the Plant a Row For the Hungry Campaign. Additionally, he assisted the nutrition department with running classes that help senior citizens learn about and implement healthy ingredients and cooking methods into their cooking practices at home. He recently interviewed Victoria Kumpuris Brown ’98 to learn more about the postgraduate opportunities that deal with issues associated with food insecurity and health.

Victoria Kumpuris Brown ’98

Q: Where do you work and what position do you hold there?

A: I am a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation is the largest philanthropy in the United States dedicated solely towards health. We have a roughly $11 billion endowment and give out around $550 million each year. The vast majority of our programming is done here in the United States. Our mission is to build a Culture of Health for all Americans, everywhere, no matter what. To achieve a Culture of Health you need to address traditional aspects of health and health care but also attend to the social and contextual aspects that shape our ability to be healthy. This means we literally think about ways we can positively impact where Americans live, work, learn, play and pray all with health equity at the center.

I spend most of my time thinking about ways we can help children and their families reach their fullest potential. I do a lot of work around food policy and ensuring affordable and broad access to healthy food and beverages. I also do a lot of work in creating healthy school environments by investing in the social and emotional well being of students.

The private sector is a big area of focus. To achieve a Culture of Health we must work with a wide variety of partners, the private sector being a critical stakeholder. We want to work with the private sector to harness their innovation and their ability to shape appetites and create our culture. I think about ways we can encourage them to create healthier products and produce healthier policies and programs that benefit their employees and the communities where they do business.

Finally, I am spending my time on two emerging areas of interest. First, the foundation has historically invested in helping communities rebuild after natural disasters. I have been working with a small team across the foundations to build resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, with a specific emphasis on behavioral health. I also lead several investments for our global portfolio. The foundation has a small set of global investments with the purpose being to support innovative programs from across the globe and bring those learnings back to the U.S. I have a series of investments around understanding how other countries have built a shared value of kids moving the populace from thinking about “my kids” to “our kids.”

Q: What postgraduate path brought you to where you are today? How did you decide what you wanted to do after completing your undergraduate education?

A: Mission-driven work has always been what I wanted to do. A lot of it is about how I was raised. I was brought up with an expectation that giving back was expected and valued. Caring about others and our democracy at large was a core value established in my childhood.

I studied public policy, a multi-disciplinary major, while at Washington and Lee, and was fortunate to meet Dr. Harlan Beckley, the founder of the Shepherd Program, during my freshman year. I was part of the Shepherd Program in its first year on campus. After college, I moved to New York and had several jobs across the private and nonprofit sectors. A lot of this work was around communications where I was sharing and shaping stories about public affairs-related efforts. It became very clear to me that I wanted to be part of making the change and shaping the program versus the one telling the story itself. This motivated me to get a masters in public affairs.

A lot of what happened next is a combination of hard work and mostly a lot of luck and happenstance. I fell into public health and spent time at an academic medical center doing research and evaluation, then worked in a state department of health. Those two experiences were infinitely valuable but I missed the pace of the private sector. I joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint venture of the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, at a time when the Clinton Foundation was really pioneering the notion of working with business to shift their policies and practices for good. These “partnerships of great purpose” that were underscored by rigorous evaluation and monitoring are a hallmark of their approach. As part of this, I negotiated a series of agreements with leading beverage manufacturers, McDonalds, and many insurance companies to change their policies and practices for good.

After eight years, I was recruited by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This opportunity was especially exciting as it gave me the chance to continue working to address the obesity epidemic and food policy while getting to learn about new areas of focus. This has included sustainability investing as well as the social and emotional development of young children.

Q: What advice would you give to undergraduate students like me who are interested in making an impact in food justice?

I think this is an arena that is ripe for innovation and change. I think you need to be very open to working across a broad array of partners including advocates, policymakers, organizers and the food manufacturers. Understanding our agricultural system and food policy is critical to making long-term impact in terms of how we can shift and incentivize our food supply to produce healthier and more affordable food at scale. Health equity should be at the center of all exploration and new efforts here, making sure that new ideas and solutions are accessible for all and not just a smaller sub-component of the population.

At the heart of it, access to affordable and healthy food is really an issue about social justice – explaining the issue in this fashion is a way to inspire others to get excited and engaged with this critical issue.