‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’ Through numerous clubs, her classwork and her peers, JoAnn Michel ’18 has found a place to grow at W&L.
“Today, students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in several multicultural student organizations, such as Multicultural Students Association, Student Association for Black Unity, and more.”
I could go on about the many wonderful things that have come together to create my W&L experience thus far: the top-notch academics, an alumni network that is both vast and accessible, the special bonds that I have forged with several deans and professors. I’ve been able to sit down with brilliant scholars, speakers, politicians and celebrities — many of whom are also proud alums. I have seen firsthand that the W&L name and crest carry the influence of an institution that attracts excellence and is anchored by its traditions. I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted into the class of 2018, but I was also a little apprehensive to have been planted here. Many of the traditions in which Washington and Lee takes so much pride were not created to accommodate me. As time went on, I realized that the only way I could truly bloom was if I learned to accommodate myself.
At first, I was unsure of how to deal with certain aspects of W&L’s academic and social atmospheres. I quickly became aware that my fields of study were not initially considered “diverse;” it was not uncommon for me to be the only person of color in the room. Too often, I was afraid to vocalize my ideas during class discussions because they seemed so out-of-place. At one point, I decided not to suppress my unique perspectives, but to put them to use. My writing assignments became conduits for deeper discussion, with topics ranging from “the presence of the post-race narrative in American literature” to my own experiences as a black student at Washington and Lee. When the idea for a French club was introduced my sophomore year, I saw an opportunity to lend more visibility to multiple Francophone countries and their respective cultures, and not just France itself.
There was a time when neither women nor people of color were represented on this campus at all. When they were admitted, each group took action — not as guests, but as full members of this institution. Today, students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in several multicultural student organizations, such as Multicultural Students Association, Student Association for Black Unity, and more. The members of each of these groups have something in common: Their persistence and presence on campus have changed the dynamic of the entire university. I can only hope that through my major, my writing, and my work with the Francophone Student Organization, I have done the same.
With the endless support and guidance of family, faculty, and friends, I have found a way to transform Washington and Lee University into My W&L. I was worried that by coming here, I would give up the chance to connect to my own identity and background. I had been planted, but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to grow. As my third year comes to an end, I know that I have bloomed. I have learned more about myself and how my identity enhances my position as a student at this school. In doing so, I have worked to educate my peers on how academic and cultural diversity are crucial to our success as a university, and I have also learned so much from them. Many of W&L’s issues result from a tenuous, long-standing history that is difficult to confront. My presence at Washington and Lee presented me with both the challenge and purpose to demand visibility. I am glad to have fulfilled my purpose here because I know that in making room for myself, I have also made room for others like me.