March 28, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
In this entry, Charlotte Mabon, ’15, serves as guest blogger. Below is her reflection from a recent Community Engagement Lunch Discussion.
2002 William & Mary graduate Abbitt Woodall is now the director of a local non-profit agency called Housing Partnership Inc. Located right in Williamsburg, HPI uses state and local government funds to provide essential housing repair services to low-income families and individuals in the Williamsburg community. These housing services include emergency home repairs, home modifications for persons with disabilities, entire home replacements, as well as indoor plumbing projects. Their clientele mostly consists of individuals and families that are elderly, disabled, and make roughly about $12,000 a year. A major focus of his work though, revolves around a need that most people in the United States take for granted: indoor plumbing. Most individuals may think that in this day and age, adequate and sanitary indoor plumbing is a luxury afforded to all. In the US today over 670,000 US households are in fact, without indoor plumbing.
Access to adequate indoor plumbing is something that not all possess, and this particular problem is right in our backyard. Since they began in 2005, Woodall and the HPI team have repaired over 80 houses in the Greater Williamsburg area that lacked indoor plumbing. Overall, HPI has invested about $3.5 million, with each individual housing repair estimating at $700. But it is important to note that costs can change depending the repairs needed to be done – some repairs may cost less or substantially more. Again, when people think about communities that lack proper indoor plumbing, the mind tends to go to rural, backwoods areas. Though these areas in Virginia are in need of indoor plumbing repairs, Woodall stressed that homes lacking indoor plumbing and proper septic systems can be found in both suburban and urban areas.
Houses in the Williamsburg area that lack indoor plumbing or have poorly constructed septic systems that fail, are built on areas of land with poor soil. Most of the houses HPI repairs include elderly clientele that had service-industry jobs before they retired. But with most service-industry jobs, the ability to afford housing on land with “good” soil is difficult to find at an affordable price – the poorer the soil, the cheaper the property. HPI’s elderly clientele also typically lack the incentives, ability, and finances to move from an older house that may not have the best septic system, to a new one that does. Moving to have a better toilet can remain low on a list filled with other priorities. Even with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, it can still be difficult to get by financially, making housing repairs that much more costly.
Inadequate indoor plumbing is rarely if ever, a hot-topic issue when discussing social injustices. One can argue that there tends to be a hierarchy of social issues, with some receiving more attention than others. This can be caused by the nature of the topic itself, the political charge behind the topic, and social standing of affected communities within a specific social issue. Essentially, it can be difficult to see a problem if one is not faced with it. Most of us have access to both public and private restrooms, and it can be hard to get out and see the sheer size of Williamsburg as a college-student. Williamsburg is a city that extends far beyond the Sunken Garden and The Cheese Shop. But if you take the time and look past the manicured lawns of CW, poverty in Williamsburg does in fact exist. The need is there and as part of the Williamsburg community, it is crucial we recognize our fortunate position to help. If looking for a chance to enable members of the Williamsburg community with better access to an essential need, HPI is the perfect place to start.
March 5, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
Last week I was asked to speak to the new members of social fraternities at W&M. It was an honor I took seriously. I wrote the following speech and hope it serves as a guide for a few other people as they contemplate their role in community.
There are dozens of lists that declare an array of benefits to being in a fraternity. I bet you’ve read a few, and definitely heard about several over the past few months and maybe years. They include:
- Leadership Opportunities
- Higher GPAs
- Community Service
- Greeks Are More Likely to Graduate
- Career Networking
- More Interaction With Faculty
- Improved Interpersonal Skills
- Built-In Sports Team
- Practice Your Interview Skills
- Some of the Most Successful People Are Greek
These all may have some correlation to Greek life, but it’s a lot harder to determine causality, especially the past 20-30 years or so. As we examine the list more closely, just about every benefit can also be found elsewhere on a college campus: leadership opportunities, service, intramurals, practice interview skills, talk with faculty, good GPA, etc. All of these attributes or accomplishments are completely feasible without membership in a fraternity. Further, the claim to fame about how successful people are Greek, begs the question of correlation or causality. Was it the fraternity that developed your determination to succeed or was it already a part of your DNA? Not sure.
So, as I pick apart supposed benefits, not for the sake of tearing down the system which I think so highly of, but rather to dig into what really sustains Greek life over hundreds of years and the evolution of the college experience, we’ve got to more carefully assess why fraternities continue to thrive on college campuses. Here’s my theory—one person, one brother, one perspective.
You consider rushing for one of a few reasons: (1) a friend encourages you to try it and the fact that someone else wants you to join them, feels good. (2) You want to join because, membership is one of the college must do’s. (3) You’d probably regret it if you didn’t join. So you join and it’s great – for a while. The new car shine wears off though, the chapter isn’t perfect, you notice the faults of individuals and maybe even of the chapter. But, you persist. It’s at this time the evolution from membership to brotherhood starts. You’ve put in some effort and you decide to stick it out. Aha! This is where the brotherhood can take hold. Cause now you’ve made the decision to remain part of the family even though you realize the family isn’t perfect. Every family has an uncle who can’t get it together, an aunt who fails at a lot of stuff, a parent who prioritizes the wrong thing, etc. But, you stick it out, cause you’re family. So you call yourself brother and you see your fellow brothers be good and funny and smart. And—you witness him being an idiot and a fool and drunk . But, he’s your family. So you stick with it.
And then, in your bravest moment, maybe in your entire college career, you stand up for your chapter. You re-read your ritual or your core values, For God and Women, Honor, Loyalty, and you muster up the courage to call out a brother for acting the fool. Or you prod the entire brotherhood toward being better than they are in current form. A non Greek calls out the faults of the system and instead of blowing him off, you fight back because you know, in your heart, while the system isn’t perfect, the process has been good to you. It’s then that you earn that title of lifelong member. It’s then that you really believe—this is for keeps.
For me, being courageous was so tough. I was intimidated by my older peers who were more articulate than I was. They commanded a presence in chapter meetings and they were funnier than me around the house. It took me a while to evolve from guest to brother – in my own head. Really all of my brothers accepted me early on. Took me longer to realize they accepted me!
Anyway, I was moved by our ritual, feeling a sense of spirituality I hadn’t before. I was surprised by the significance our founders placed on deep and quiet reflection. Still, I didn’t really fully come into brotherhood til I stood up for those values. I remember, one evening in 1995 like it was yesterday. I was planning on standing up at the end of meeting when there was open mic, to implore our brotherhood to remain true to values our founders wrote about. I was scared. Shaking. Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Trembling a bit. I had rehearsed my speech. No one knew a speech was coming. I stood upon getting the ok from the chapter president and I spoke. I told my brothers how I wanted our chapter to be open to diverse opinions and how everyone should have voice, not the chosen few and the charismatic or funny others. I was still so scared, afraid of ridicule. As good as we could be to one another, one false phrase could become your nickname for life. I kept going though. We must be the ritual, live it, and model it. Not merely reciting the words that we hold sacred, but living it through our actions. We wore our letters a lot. We needed to hold them as sacred. Reminders to all not that we belonged to an exclusive club but that the letter stood for something greater than our one self. We’d made a pledge to be honorable, chivalric, and to live with integrity. We vowed to be future focused and to seek elders to help us seek our path. I was so afraid of being ridiculed, but I continued. I told the brothers how much I believed in the chapter and that the long meetings, the disagreements, the debates over who to admit, were worth it, so long as we stayed the course. I concluded with a rally cry of some sort and, as I sat down and slunk in my seat—the brothers applauded. Whew. They do like me, I thought. I was vulnerable, I was brave and they were ok with it. That’s the night I earned brotherhood. The family accepted me.
Now, in a fraternity, one decent speech, made at the right time, can earn you leadership positions! So I accepted a few over the next several years and I learned a ton about myself.
I learned that I most enjoy creating new things. I like to think about the future and how, a new project might make the system better for the next generation. I learned that I liked to hear brothers tell me about themselves one on one and not in large groups. I became better at asking questions and answering questions with some depth as pledges were required to interview every brother. I learned that none of us are perfect, far from it, and it’s ok to see someone in a bad place and then praise him next week for doing something good. I learned forgiveness—slowly and with a few chances to practice. And mostly, I learned to say goodbye to a good friend. In my chapter I grieved for the first time. During my senior my friend and brother Keith was murdered in his apartment. As soon as we all heard we ran – literally to the fraternity house and we hugged, we cried. We hit the walls. And then, some of us prayed. We prayed so loudly on the front porch I bet you could hear us across the street. Well, that’s how it sounded to me in that circle of brotherhood. Brad, our prayer leader that night became an awesome minister. He was doing some vocational discernment on the porch that night. After we prayed, we sat in silence and just like in ritual we went back to deep reflection. We’d never been in this place, but we were not entirely uncomfortable. We’d done this before. Ritual gave us the framework when we would need it most. In time, we healed mostly from Keith’s death. Last month a handful of us completed our fundraising effort for a scholarship in Keith’s honor. So, he’s still with us. His memory remains. He is our brother. And we are family.
So, the top 5’s and 10’s lists about benefits of Greek life, on the surface, sure they are not incorrect, but they don’t distinguish Greek life from college life.
Interaction With Faculty
Improved Interpersonal Skills
Practice Your Interview Skills
You’ll find these on any residential campus these days. So, here’s my top’s list. Brotherhood affords you the chance to:
- Live ritual
- Reflect on what you want in life
- Over time, coming to admire individuals for their unique strengths
- Over time, learning how to support brothers who fall down
- Have a family- a crazy family, but a real family and
- To, in short time, evolve from the kid to the dad to the granddad of the family
- And becoming a brother in a fraternity happens when you become brave, standing up for what the group could become and being accepted for your bravery
I hope you will feel welcomed into the brotherhood. Earn your keep by being brave when your family needs you most.
March 4, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
In this blog entry, Kendall Lorenzen, a junior at W&M serves as guest blogger. Below is the script from the speech she gave at the annual Junior Ring Ceremony.
I love everything that the Charter of the College of William & Mary represents. It is our origin story. It is our connection. It is the document that spurred the 321 year long chain of events that have brought us here together today.
It is in a word—astounding. However I will say looking at the 321 year old script of the Charter initially I couldn’t help but be amazed for a slightly different reason. The Charter began so incredibly simple.
Our Charter lays out the foundation for a university with one President, six professors, and one hundred students more or less. I can’t help but wonder what King William and Queen Mary would think after seeing our campus today. What we have today, THIS was not even a dream in 1693. The College had humble beginnings.
This makes me think of our first experiences here at William & Mary. Our first walk through Wren together as a class, our first forced mixer with another hall, our hurrication. I think about the expectations I had as I stood with strangers waiting to get the key to my room in Jefferson—the strangers that I now consider great friends.
I thought all I would be getting from my fours at William & Mary would be an education. But looking back today-I already know I have gotten so much more than that. I came into William & Mary with humble expectations. But being here with you all has taught me so much more than what I could ever have learned in a classroom. Coming into college I knew I could study, but I didn’t think I could really do anything more than that. But here, from you I learned I had the ability to make a difference and to inspire those around me.
Being here has taught me how powerful we all have the potential to be just by being in each others lives. At William & Mary, we have the most incredible people around us. Sitting next to us in lecture, living right down the hall, or even in the very same room. What defines William & Mary is not just the acceptance of the individual, but the celebration of the individual. We have the ability to be phenomenal leaders and WE have inspiration all around us and within us. How many of you have been inspired by someone in this room or here at the College? And how many of you have told them that?
We all have incredible power. If you do not know how inspiring you are or that you have an amazing ability to make positive change, just think about all of the people who didn’t raise their hands. William & Mary has amazing professors, research opportunities, but perhaps the best thing about William & Mary is that it has brought us together so that we can be inspired by one another and go out into the world and community to do unbelievable things.
I have a lot of goals for the remainder of my time here at the College, but at the top of my list is to be engaged everyday; in my classes, with my peers, and with everything I do—because when I came into college I knew how to study. We all knew how to study, but by being engaged we have the ability to truly learn from all the fantastic people around us. It is a simple idea. But by engaging in these William & Mary networks, like the Class of 2015, we have become a part of something great. Just as the alumni before us have learned, we have the ability to innovate and inspire.
Looking back at the Charter today and looking back at those initial moments when we first came to the College, I see that nothing was ever really simple. It was innovative. It was the start of something that neither we nor King William and Queen Mary could have ever imagined. We are connected now and forever to something great that will always be bigger than ourselves. Look at the rings now that you have just received. Let the rings serve as a reminder of each other and the tradition of service that we will always be bound to. All you can really do going into our last three semesters is to embrace your strengths and live authentically. Never underestimate the power of a thank you or the power of telling a classmate just how incredible they are. And I want to tell you all here today—you are amazing and I can’t wait to see the things you do in your final semesters at the College and in the world.
July 26, 2013 by Drew Stelljes
Colin Danly, a junior at William & Mary, provides a guest blog. The blog is written in the form of a speech he would give to incoming freshmen at the College.
Welcome class of 2030!
It fills me with great pride to be able to speak with you all today. My time here was a transformative period of my life. I came into college certain that I had my whole life figured out. I was going to double major in government and history, and then I was going to go to law school, and finally, take over the world. My plans for world domination did not survive my first battle with Banner. Banner barred me from every history class. (Coincidentally, my plans did not survive my next five battles with Banner, but that is a story for another time.) I was devastated. My perfectly manicured plan no longer was possible. I placed such a high importance on my plan; I thought it was the only avenue for success. Life teaches you to be flexible; the path you once thought you were predestined for may close unexpectedly. The ones who are successful in life are those who learn to adapt and overcome unexpected obstacles.
As is customary in officious speeches such as this, I would like to recite an anecdote from my youth. While I was still in high school, my priest delivered a homily recounting his experience at the funeral of an old man. The man who had passed away had lived in my hometown for over thirty years and had a close connection to the church. My priest presided over the funeral and knew the family quite well. After the funeral, the priest went up to the man’s son. The priest wanted to know what the son’s favorite memory of his father was. The son replied that during his childhood his father would stop each of his children before they left for the day and tell them, “Don’t forget your name out there.” The son had never really given much thought to this ritual before his father began to die. He realized that after all these years his father was not reminding him of his first name, but of his last.
This is one of my favorite stories, and it drastically shaped my outlook on life. Much like the son, I heard what the priest said, but it took me a long time to really understand the distinction between first and last names. As I got older, this distinction became more apparent to me. In our youth, our default setting is to see the world from an egocentric point of view. Very rarely do children think about themselves as part of a larger group. We sometimes forget that our last names are just as important as our first names. I don’t mean last names in the traditional sense; last names are more than words on your birth certificate. Last names embody all groups or institutions you are a part of, beyond those who share your name. For example, my name as printed on my birth certificate is Colin David Danly. To me, my last name is Danly from the Danly family, from Lake Forest, Illinois, alum of the College of William & Mary, citizen of the United States, and member of the global community. Every time I get up in the morning, I represent each of these groups by my actions and interactions with other people.
You all have just joined an illustrious line and can now add the College of William & Mary to your ever-growing last name. With this addition comes a new burden of responsibility to those who share this last name. Go make us proud and respect those who have joined your family, as if they were your blood. I wish you all the luck in the world. These next four years are not the best of your life. They are the beginning. Go forth, and do not forget your name out there.
March 4, 2013 by Drew Stelljes
Civic engagement is often described by individual or collective action, conducted with a systematic approach, designed to address issues of social concern. Grounded in democratic governance, it is a means by which balanced and measured decision-making for the public good determines the policies by which decisions are made or reform is enacted when it does not meet the common good. Are colleges meeting this great democratic aspiration with the proliferation of centers for civic engagement?
Civic engagement, shaped by activities and programs, are often couched in the college or university organizational hierarchy as a center. The Center exists in physical and cyber space serving as a connecting point for students and faculty that might be most inclined to become civically engaged. It provides the safe space for cultivation of ideas for those interested in experimenting with some form of engaged learning. In most cases the Center becomes another silo politicking for scarce funds, using the rhetoric of the institution’s founding purpose, to call upon funders, internal and external, to answer the call to action. Many times, a small and dedicated cadre of renegade professors, feeling themselves marginalized, get a morsel of funding to experiment with pedagogy. These centers are generally good and safe for the keepers of our organizations and governance. A new center, while a slight strain on existing resources, also brings with it the appeal of something true to core mission while not altering the existing structure of the University. The new Center can get in line with the others and make their pitch. It does not require the institution to change its operating system. This model is proliferated across colleges and universities and in most cases lauded for its outreach, clothed in the vocabulary of community partnership, mutual benefit and reciprocal learning.
Centers that provide programs and services are flourishing. They tell a good story of the student experience. Quantifiable are meals served, children tutored, houses built. It’s the cheap and easy way for colleges to “do civic engagement” and it looks good on the web and on paper. It resonates with service-oriented donors, prospective students and families. The problem is the academic core of the college, the space where students actually learn something about engagement, suffers. Decades worth of faculty, staff and students have advocated for a change in the system that shapes the academic culture of the entire organization, removing the now stale argument against service-learning or community based research, in favor of the more familiar publish or perish, teaching, research and committee work professional reward system. Civic engagement pushes against the dominant framework of singular expertise. Colleges hire experts, in very particular fields, and expect that the person become even more expert over decades, through a combination of research, writing and reflection. The persistent framework rewards the familiar – a new center that mirrors a successful one; a tenure review process that stays the course. A consistent messaging of what we’ve done and will continue rewarding
In this era of rapidly eroding financial support for public higher education and tuition increases that outpace inflation, the prospects for attainment of an education that teaches with civic engagement in the bulls-eye of the educational framework, is increasingly difficult to attain. Simultaneously public opinion of the mission of higher education is increasingly perceived as a market-driven institution existing for the economic benefit of the individual, the upward mobility of a social class and in turn further sedimentation of the class hierarchy. Now, more than ever, colleges and universities should take the hard road, but the path that has meaning and purpose, where engagement means fixing the system that created our national conundrum.
The Institution itself, charging for services, instantly creates the inequity divide. Outreach can inadvertently perpetuate that chasm, making the handout become the habit rather than the obstacle toward real progress. Our nation is in desperate need of effective, deliberate, developmental socio-cultural, economic and political discussions and shared understandings. Various publics are increasingly expecting financial reward for financial input. If an individual pays a larger share for a good and service, they expect a larger financial reward. Problem is, colleges are not, at their core, career factories. They resist, with varying success, the increased pressure from their customers to focus primarily on training for a vocational skill.
The history of higher education in the first part of the 21st century is partially written and it does not read well for civic engagement. The dominant form of civic engagement that has emerged in higher education is rich in outreach and handouts. It is largely deplete of the democratic virtues our nation is so desperate to recapture. Many colleges and universities are touting their most noble mission as that of reciprocity and yet the systems and structures have yet to change. If a college were to be bold in the face of an eroded or vacant trust in the civic mission of their work, a remodeled system would include new goals, strategies and roles for its faculty. A new way of reward would abandon tyranny of the top tier journal, of review of peers, by peers, and instead be dominated by assessment from community peers. If a college were so bold as to remain wholly dedicated to its civic mission and to embark on the difficult task of culture change focusing on shared understandings, community engagement, common frameworks for discovering within and with community, that college could take back the first part of this century from market-driven pressures.
Colleges devoted to their civic mission, do not educate for a job, they educate for citizenry and for citizenship. Job training skills can be acquired outside of an expensive assortment of buildings. The framework that will allow our society to persist, to exist through this turmoil of the first part of the century, is the framework of civic engagement. The public needs colleges and universities to train for constructive exchange of ideas, peaceful cooperation among a diverse citizenry with myriad perspectives on hard-to-solve problems.
The staffs in centers that promote civic engagement are themselves, called to action. A systemic approach to changing organizational systems could be the great work of the first part of the 21st century, the lasting legacy of the great democratic aspiration of civic engagement in higher education.
December 5, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Often saying grace gets wrapped up in the To Whom or For What and then many people abandon the activity. In my estimation it’s not about whom I am speaking with that’s important. It’s instead about hearing more than saying.
The funny thing about saying grace is that you actually do not need to say anything. The essence of grace is so uncomplicated: just your breath, moving a miraculous engine in a circular and repetitive motion.
It is when we are silent, that the sounds of life take over. What a gift it is to hear the sounds of our world. At first, we hear the sounds of the heater, the clicking of a pencil, the rattle of feet. We may hear the whisper of a cool breeze or the chatter of friends in the distance. We hear, always the rhythmic sound of our breath, and when in silence, the repetitive circular motion of inhaling and exhaling slows, our body less encumbered by the stress of our daily life. And then, we may begin to hear, again, after a long absence, the sounds of grace, of ordinary goodness, of gladness, of extraordinary appreciation that is indistinguishable from gratitude. This is grace.
This is a particularly tough time of year. Life is busy. People are expecting a lot. Deadlines invade our freedom to be our best selves. In this time of loud noises, I wish that each of our students will hear grace.
August 23, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
George Srour ’05, founder of Building Tomorrow, offers his best wishes to the Class of 2016. George received the Monroe Prize for Civic Leadership in 2005. Check out the news coverage.
I wish you the consuming unity of the Tribe.
I wish you the discovery of a voice and of a passion that will define your time at W&M and beyond.
I wish you triumphs that bring you great joy and challenges that reaffirm who you know yourself to be.
I wish you great luck keeping dry as the rains soak the storied brick paths that will define your future.
And I hope you will quickly find the one place on campus that redefines what it means to finally be home.
August 23, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Cosmo was the recipient of the prestigious Monroe Prize for Civic Leadership in 2007. Check out the news coverage.
Dream HUGE. Have a random conversation a day with someone new. Give yourself permission to try, fail and learn. Love yourself. Be yourself. Be mindful. Go tribe!!!!
I wish you many cups of Wawa’s premiere Mac and Cheese. Best at 3:15AM.
I wish you boldness.
I wish you many renditions of the alma mater.
Try out for an a capella group! Big personal regret of mine is that I didn’t try out.
Above all, I wish you time. Time to soak it all in. Time to meet friends for coffee and inspiration at the Daily Grind. Time to be fiercely you, and all the beauty that comes with the journey.
August 22, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
The residence halls will soon spring to life for another glorious academic year. The incoming class is the most accomplished to this point in their collective life as any our university has ever welcomed.
Freshman and transfer move-in is among my favorites sites of the school year. There is such emotion on campus. For as long as each new student has been alive, or longer, a family member or many have dreamed of this day. Still, there is a sense of dread, angst and curiosity. All that you aspired for is now a reality. With that comes such excitement for something new and some sadness for a loss of that which you were striving.
Here are my wishes for each student in the new class:
- I wish for you good days, interest in learning, finding a lifelong friendship, feeling a sense of accomplishment at least monthly, and the ability to cope during challenging times, to heal from the toughest moments and to later thrive.
- I wish for you to find a deep sense of calling so that you can pursue fulfilling work and have every confidence on your ability to do your part to change the world.
- I wish for you your best moments happen often and that those moments pass slowly.
- I wish your bad days are few and that when they pass you can look back with an understanding of what you learned.
- I wish for you to have dreams for your best life and when a dream comes true that you have the hunger to dream again.
I hope you know that the people leaving you at William and Mary are not far away. They have worked so hard to prepare you for this time in your life. There will always be a person to listen when you speak and to find you when you are alone.
One recipe for success at William and Mary:
Eat healthy food. Get consistent sleep. Go to class always. Be interested in the topic. Ask for help at the first sign of needing it. Accomplish something outside of class. Develop a few real and lasting friendships. Consider your role in community. Feel a part of something bigger than you. Be thankful for this place.
Your dream came true. Your loved ones dream came true. You made it. Rejoice.