We Aren’t Just Another Liberal Arts School

By Ty Mitchell

             When Dean Evans came to our chapter meeting and presented the proposal for thethird-year housing requirement, she said that the administration wanted to make Washington and Lee more similar to other liberal arts schools around the country. In her words, “There is a clear recognition that a third year residency requirement would bring us more in line with our peers” (Residential Life Task Force Report, pg. 5, par. 4). Examples of these other liberal arts schools include such institutions as Oberlin and Vassar, both of whom are quite nearly opposites of our school. Well I did not choose to attend Oberlin. Nor Vassar. Nor any other liberal arts school. I, like all of my peers, chose to come here, to Washington and Lee.

Washington and Lee is a school rich with heritage. From the Speaking Tradition to the Colonnade to Fancy Dress, every one of these traditions adds to the unique identity of this school. Another tradition that is instilled in this school is the legacy of student autonomy that Robert E. Lee introduced when he became President of the University. We are given a large amount of freedoms at this school, something that we may take for granted, but these very same freedoms are being threatened to make room for a larger role by the administration in our lives.

When I chose to attend W&L, the idea of being able to live off campus my junior year definitely influenced my decision. The idea of being able to live out in the middle of the Virginia countryside seemed like a scenario that most could only dream about. Chris Ives, a current senior who lived at Hooterville his junior year, shared a similar perspective, saying, “From the start of freshmen year I knew I wanted to live out in the country one year…Living there [Hooterville] provided a unique experience for me that I will never forget.” Whether the administration wants to admit it or not, the prospect of being able to live off campus during junior year is a contributing factor towards the identity of the school.

Living off campus is not only something that is look forwarded to by underclassmen and prospective students, but also serves as a bridge that connects the past to the present. Houses like those on Windfall Hill or the Poles are an iconic part of not only our current social life, but are also responsible for memories made in years past. Bert Ponder, graduate of the Class of 1983, recollected that living off campus “was a part of my W&L experience that I look back on very fondly. I still have a picture that my dad took of Windfall, which he gave me for Christmas my junior year.” How many graduates of others schools can say that, thirty years later, they still have a picture of their off-campus house? Washington and Lee is a special school with special traditions, which in themselves create memories that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

            In conclusion, I would like to point out that I realize that this situation is similar to the deliberation of whether or not to allow women to attend, but I also believe that the positives of that decision greatly outweighed the negatives. In this case, however, I must tend to disagree. The implication of this new rule will destroy not only the tradition of autonomy that the students have always had at this school in being able to choose where and how they live, but will also drastically change the social landscape in a way that would alter the fabric of our institution.

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