Posts

W&L Students Partner With Domestic Violence Nonprofit to Create Life Skills Book

By Lindsey Nair, Washington and Lee University

To the students in the Principles of Public Relations class at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University (W&L), the life skills book they created for clients at Lexington, Va. nonprofit Project Horizon is so much more than a how-to manual.

“This is a book of empowerment and independence,” said Jackson Monroe ’21.

Monroe is part of the fundraising team for the community-based learning project, an integral part of Professor Dayo Abah’s course this term at W&L. The finished books were delivered last week to Project Horizon, which provides 24-hour crisis response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault along with a 16-bed shelter. They will be distributed to Project Horizon clients who have escaped abusive relationships and are ready to leave the shelter and embark on new lives.

Related: Professor and student at Washington and Lee University co-direct domestic violence documentary

The book is intended to help clients who have never had the opportunity to learn basic yet important life skills, such as how to change a flat tire or open a bank account. It offers instructions and illustrations on a variety of topics that range in complexity from how to make a grilled cheese sandwich or do a load of laundry to how to budget money or apply for a job.

“After people stay there for a month to three months, Project Horizon prepares them to live independently,” Abah said. “But that becomes challenging because a lot of them go straight from abusive relationships into the shelter. This is something they can hold onto while they go into their new life and try to remember those lessons they have learned.”

Professor Dayo Abah talks to her Principles of Public Relations class about their community-based learning project with Project Horizon.

Working with clients from the Lexington/Rockbridge community is not unusual in Principles of Public Relations, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant the class would have to approach that work differently this term. Students could not tour facilities or meet in person with clients, so Abah and Kaitlyn Kaufman, operations and volunteer coordinator for Project Horizon, developed a project that could be handled virtually.

Alessandra Del Conte Dickovick, associate director of community-based learning at W&L, said the university was fortunate to again partner with Project Horizon for a project that provides experiential learning for students. “Project Horizon is an incredible community partner,” she said. “They are widely respected and possess not only expertise on domestic violence but also our local community. They have been generous to welcome our students with open arms and have played an important role as co-educators for generations of students.”

When Abah’s students learned they’d be putting together a book from start to finish in one semester, they were excited to take on the challenge.

“I was happily surprised when we first heard about the project because, typically in public relations classes, we’re doing writing and social media work, and I’ve had experience in that,” said Courtney Berry. “But I’ve never created a book before, so this has been a really exciting opportunity.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner MaKayla Lorick shares untold stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

Before they started, Kaufman gave students a virtual tour of the facility so they could get a sense of the homey, welcoming environment there. Abah divided the students into three teams: fundraising, content, and layout and design. Ayo Ehindero, a member of the fundraising team, created a detailed schedule with weekly deadlines.

The content team started with suggestions from Kaufman but expanded the topics to include additional lessons that had not been initially considered. They wrote content at a reading level that would be accessible to any client. AP Smith, who was on the content team, said that, because many college students find themselves in the position of living independently for the first time, she learned a few things herself.

“The financial section and auto section were ones that required a little more of ‘maybe I need to figure this out myself, too,’ which is good because I’m about to graduate and hopefully have a job, so I’m going to need to know how to budget, too,” Smith said.

Students in Professor Dayo Abah’s class work on their book project together in the Lemon Reading Room at Washington and Lee University.

Berry, who is pursuing a double major in psychology and strategic communication, said she loves making art but doesn’t have much time to do that because of her classes. She and others on the design and layout team made more than 127 different illustrations for the book using their laptops, iPads checked out from the library, and new-to-them software. Berry also enjoyed learning about bookmaking basics and working toward a common goal with her classmates.

While the content and design teams worked on producing the book, the fundraising team researched printing options and figured out how to pay for it. They employed several fundraising methods, including partnering with Lexington businesses Blue Sky Bakery, Pronto Gelateria and Tonic Restaurant on special deals for which a percentage of the profits went to the book. They also promoted the campaign on social media and sent letters to potential donors in the community.

“There’s always the classic route of sending a letter to ask for a donation,” Monroe said, “but if you can get more people involved, it feels like a bigger contribution from the community and the school. You can get a lot of little donations and support from a multitude of people by being more creative with your options.”

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur from Washington and Lee University is helping save the world from plastic waste

The fundraising team’s goal was $650, which, at $7.50 per book, would allow them to print about 85 books. Several weeks before the end of term, they had already raised more than enough to print the books and pay for shipping, with a bit left over to donate directly to Project Horizon.

The entire class carpooled to Project Horizon on Nov. 12 to deliver the books, and everyone saw the finished product for the first time. Kaufman considers the project a success and looks forward to sharing the books with clients.

“I wasn’t sure how daunting this project would be for the students, but I was impressed. I couldn’t believe that they took something we’ve been working on for a while and truly expanded on it, including things I would never have thought of including,” Kaufman said. “They really went above and beyond what I was expecting them to do, and they are just so hardworking. They took the information I gave them and used it to make a wonderful book that’s really going to enhance the lives of the people I work with.”

For the students, the project greatly enhanced the lessons they learned in the class, but it was also personally fulfilling.

“I’ve been challenged and learned to do things I’ve never done before, so it’s been a great learning experience,” Berry said, “And it is an amazing cause. It feels like we’re doing really important work, so I’m proud of that.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

Professor and Student at Washington and Lee Co-Direct Domestic Violence Documentary

By Lindsey Nair, Washington and Lee University

When Nolan Zunk first approached Professor Stephanie Sandberg near the end of his freshman year at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University, he was hoping for a summer opportunity that would provide him with a little filmmaking experience.

He got that—and a whole lot more.

A year-and-a-half later, Zunk and Sandberg are co-directors putting the finishing touches on a domestic violence documentary, “Intimate Violence,” that will be screened at Hull’s Drive-in on Oct. 25 in Lexington, Va., to raise money for Lexington’s nonprofit Project Horizon. Along the way, Zunk gained invaluable hands-on experience, collaborated closely with a faculty member on a professional project and received a job offer from Project Horizon only halfway through his college career.

“I’ve learned so much about documentary filmmaking, feminist care ethics and how to ethically interact with survivors of trauma, so it’s been an incredibly fruitful process,” Zunk said. “I’ve made many connections that I will use my whole life.”

Sandberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies at W&L, is no stranger to producing work about heavy topics. She has written plays about racism, faith, sexuality, human trafficking and the plight of refugees. When she was ready for a new project, she wanted to partner with a local organization.

Related: Sullivan Award winner shares untold stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

“I was looking for something to do that would be significant to the community but could be of national interest as well,” she said.

She approached Judy Casteele, executive director of Project Horizon, to discuss the idea. Founded in 1982, Project Horizon provides 24-hour crisis response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The nonprofit operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, a 16-bed shelter and a number of programs that include legal advocacy and counseling, all free of charge to clients. The organization also offers community violence prevention education to students in pre-K through college as well as to civic groups.

Sandberg and Zunk recruited other Washington and Lee University students to help research and shoot “Intimate Violence.”

Casteele said she had no reservations about Sandberg’s proposal. “We are interested in anything we can do to help increase understanding of the issues,” she said, “and to get out the message that anyone can be a part of the solution.”

From the beginning, Sandberg wanted to involve students. She and Professor Shawn Paul Evans, who also teaches in the Theater, Dance and Film Department, worked with first-year students in the summer 2019 Advanced Immersion and Mentoring (AIM) program to do research and conduct test interviews. One of those students, Lauren Hayes, remained involved for the long haul. Over the summer, she worked remotely with Sandberg to write a related play featuring domestic violence survivor stories.

“It was really cool,” Hayes said of the AIM experience, “especially for an incoming first-year student who is already nervous about being in a whole new environment. It gave me an opportunity to know my advisor way before anyone else, and it helped me make a lot of connections I would not have known about.”

Zunk and fellow student Logan Brand also joined the project early on as summer research students. Brand graduated in May 2020, but Zunk stayed involved. Prior joining the project, Zunk had only made two eight-minute documentaries, one about 9/11 and one about the plight of honeybees.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste

With help from Project Horizon, Sandberg and Zunk identified four survivors of domestic violence—three female, one male—to interview. Using Lenfest grant money, they also traveled around the country to interview national experts, including Jacqueline Campbell at Johns Hopkins University, who created the Danger Risk Assessment tool used to calculate victims’ risk of being killed by their abuser. Also featured in the film are a trauma-sensitive judge, a director of counseling services, and experts in gun violence and violent male culture. Many others were interviewed on background, including a Rockbridge County police special investigator who works on domestic violence cases.

The end result is a 102-minute documentary that weaves together survivor stories with expert interviews to take a close look at the current state of domestic violence in America. The documentary covers not only traditional domestic situations, but also violence between same-sex couples and family violence.

“One of the huge issues is the silence that surrounds this topic,” Sandberg said. “It’s happening everywhere, and it crosses race lines, class lines and geographic lines. Every single part of human life is touched by this issue, and we haven’t really found adequate ways to address the violence.”

Stephanie Sandberg

The survivors interviewed for the film were willing to be on record in part because they are no longer in abusive relationships. Sandberg and Zunk worked closely with Project Horizon, counselors and the judicial system to ensure that they didn’t put anyone at risk. Everyone involved in the project went through volunteer training at Project Horizon and studied feminist care ethics to ensure that they approached survivors with care and limited the risk of re-traumatizing them during the interview process.

In the course of working on the film, both Sandberg and Zunk learned a great deal about the realities of domestic violence. For example, they learned that when victims of domestic violence are killed by their abusers, it most often happens when they’re trying to leave, which is one reason it can be so difficult to disentangle oneself from a dangerous situation.

“Another thing is that society so often labels intimate violence and domestic violence as women’s issues,” Zunk said, “and certainly these issues do affect women disproportionately. But by calling it a women’s issue, in some ways that is a form of victim-blaming, rather than calling it a men’s issue, since men most often are the ones perpetrating these acts of violence.”

As the premiere date draws nearer, the film is being scored by a Chicago graduate student composer that Zunk and Sandberg met through the Virginia Film Festival’s Adrenaline Film Project. Zunk is in the process of creating animations for the documentary, work that has counted toward an independent study course in animation. He also completed an independent study in film editing, and some of the work became part of his Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking course. Other students in that class did projects related to domestic violence that will be used on the film’s website.

“Overall, more than 20 students were involved in this project,” Sandberg said. “It’s so great because it was totally hands-on, they learned so much, and their names are on the film.”

Casteele said she has been impressed by the professionalism of the students. “I have watched them interview other professionals, and they have been well-prepared and inquisitive, really wanting to understand the issue, not just put something out there that is sensational or fluff,” she said. “We were so impressed with Nolan that we hired him.” Zunk now works part-time as a community outreach specialist for Project Horizon, and he answers calls on the hotline on weekends.

Most of Project Horizon’s funding comes from state and federal grants, but the organization has to raise $200,000-$300,000 each year through fundraisers and donations. In a normal year, some of those funds would come from Deck the Halls, an annual black-tie gala held in Marshall Hall at VMI. Because of COVID-19, the organization won’t be able to host the gala this year.

Instead, Sandberg came up with the idea to screen the documentary at Hull’s Drive-in theater. It will be screened on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets, which are $100 per car, can be purchased on the Hull’s Drive-in website. Sponsorship opportunities of $500 to $5,000 are also available. Interested parties should contact Project Horizon at 540-463-7861.

“Violence in the home is not something that Project Horizon is going to solve alone,” Casteele said. “It’s going to take addressing what the community culture is like and what is accepted. It’s going to take good people standing up and saying ‘This is wrong. There is a part for me in changing this trend of violence in the home and in the community.’”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

A History Overlooked

By Lindsey Nair

MaKayla Lorick, winner of the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Washington and Lee University (W&L), can trace her love of stories to early childhood, when her grandparents told lively yarns about their younger years. She followed that thread to W&L, where it has afforded her the opportunity to seek and record some of the university’s most important overlooked tales.

Lorick, a senior English major, has been working since the summer of 2018 on a multi-institutional project that aims to incorporate more African-American perspectives into the history of desegregation and integration at private Southern schools. Her role allows her to comb through W&L’s Special Collections and gather oral histories from black alumni, faculty and staff.

MaKayla Lorick received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Washington and Lee University in 2019.

“It’s such an exciting thing to dip your fingers into history and to listen to other people’s stories,” she said. “It betters your life and the lives of others. Just to color in one person’s perspective on history is beautiful.”

The overall project, “Pathway to Diversity: Uncovering Our Collections,” is a collaboration with Centre College and Sullivan Foundation partner schools Furman University and Rollins College, and is funded by a grant from Associated Colleges of the South (ACS). Along with its partner institutions, W&L is working to build a shared digital archive of information regarding the history of desegregation and integration at these schools. At W&L, the project is being led by Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sydney Bufkin, with support from Tom Camden, head of Special Collections and Archives.

The Slow Pace of Integration

Compared to public colleges and universities in the South, whose public status and reliance on federal funding forced them to integrate in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, Bufkin said, “the history of integration at W&L looks very different. It’s quieter, but also less effective and slower. We are grappling with the consequences of a response to integration that really, when you look at the documents and history, appears to be an attempt to do as little as possible… It is a history that we continue to live, so I think recognizing some of the ways the institution has dealt with race—or not dealt with race—historically is really valuable and is something we can address a little more head-on, especially as we try to do things differently.”

Related: Learn more about how students like MaKayla Lorick qualify for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Washington and Lee’s board of trustees did not take action regarding integration until a full decade after Brown vs. Board, in July 1964, with a statement that was viewed by most as deliberately vague and uninspired. Without using the words “integration,” “desegregation” or “race,” it simply stated that no policy of discrimination existed at W&L. It was accompanied by no effort to recruit students of color or make W&L a more welcoming place for them.

Another eight years passed before Carl Linwood Smothers and Walter Blake became the first African-American graduates of W&L in 1972. The W&L School of Law had awarded its first degree to a black student, Leslie Devan Smith Jr., in 1969.

 ‘Serendipity’
Initial goals for the ACS project included identifying materials currently in Special Collections that belong in the digital archive; creating an annotated bibliography; collecting oral histories from alumni, faculty and staff; and determining how to incorporate those materials into the curriculum. As Bufkin considered the oral history piece, she said, she immediately thought of Lorick, who had taken her African-American literature class.

photo MaKayla Lorick speaking to an audience

MaKayla Lorick has been combing through W&L’s Special Collections and gathering oral histories from black alumni, faculty and staff.

English professor Lesley Wheeler agreed that Lorick, her advisee, would be a perfect fit, as she has an interest in digital humanities, and spent the summer of 2016 assisting history professor Ted DeLaney on an African-American history project in Special Collections. (Since becoming involved in the project, Lorick was also selected to be a member of the Working Group on the History of African Americans at W&L). Although the ACS grant does not cover student researchers, Bufkin was able to fund Lorick’s role with Mellon Digital Humanities summer research funding and, as the academic year commenced, with a Mellon Digital Humanities Fellowship.

What started as a simple summer job search became something incredibly meaningful, Lorick said. “I thought I was just going to get some random summer job on campus but Professor Wheeler really opened a door with one tiny conversation. Stumbling onto this project is one of the best things that’s happened to me. It’s really serendipity.”

Lorick began by reading sections of Mame Warren’s 1998 history, “Come Cheer for Washington and Lee” and Blaine Brownell’s “Washington and Lee University: 1930-2000.” She also scoured yearbooks, scrapbooks, newspapers, letters and other sources in Special Collections to start a list of people to approach for oral histories.

While the project was initially focused on black men who graduated in 1974, the first year with a noteworthy number of black graduates (17), Lorick and Bufkin soon realized that scope was too narrow. They also knew that Warren had already collected oral histories from those men. Lorick wanted to include the perspectives of black women, who had not been interviewed for Warren’s book, so she began to build a list from the first few years of coeducation at W&L, from 1985-1990. She also wanted to include faculty and staff, not just alumni.

Recording History

Midway through the summer, it was time to start scheduling interviews. Over the next couple of months, she would record conversations with Ted Delaney ’85, associate professor of history at W&L and a Lexington native; Edwin Walker, a retired Print Shop employee; Stephanie Coleman ’89; Willard Dumas III ’91; and Marquita Dunn, who retired from Dining Services. These interviews included questions about the subject’s first impressions of Lexington and W&L, and their experiences connected to integration and/or coeducation.

Some interview subjects recalled negative experiences at Washington and Lee, such as a white boyfriend’s reluctance to escort his black girlfriend on the homecoming court, or white professors taking advantage of a black employee’s intellect and work ethic while denying him the respect and upward mobility he deserved. But Lorick said she was surprised to find that the interviews were, for the most part, positive.

“It ended up being more positive than I expected,” she said. “Interview subjects do not forget about the bad, but they are better able to remember the good.”

Lorick said she also had to work through some disappointment over the lack of detail provided about segregation in Lexington, particularly about the relationships between white and black citizens. “When the first individual told me that there was nothing more to say, I thought, there has to be! But as I began to unravel the project a little bit more, I thought more about what segregation must have looked like, and in the end they were totally right. They didn’t really know their neighbors, and that was just the culture.”

Recording these views and closing even the smallest gaps in W&L’s institutional history has been fulfilling, Lorick said. As a first-year student, she was frustrated by the lack of black perspectives in the archives; now, through her work as an upperclassman, she will be directly responsible for changing other students’ experiences.

“I thought that W&L wasn’t making a big enough effort to cover the staff, faculty, students and alumni. When I came upon this project, I knew that there was a choice that I had to make and it was exciting and thrilling. I get to go through these archives all the time and I see the people who have recorded history. This time, I’ll be the one recording history.”

Digging Deeper
One requirement of the ACS grant was that each of the four colleges incorporate findings into a course. At W&L, that course was “Race, Memory, Nation,” a first-year Fall Term writing seminar taught by Assistant English Professor Ricardo Wilson. Wilson spent considerable time with Bufkin and Lorick in Special Collections over the summer to develop the course, which delved into issues of race, integration and civil rights.

another photo showing MaKayla Lorick at work

MaKayla Lorick gets ready to conduct an interview as Professor Ricardo Wilson and his students look on. (Photo by Kevin Remington)

With guidance from Lorick and Wilson, the students conducted research and selected topics about which they were required to produce video essays as final projects in the course. The four groups decided to focus on integration in athletics, coeducation, and two pivotal moments in W&L history: the 1923 football game against Washington and Jefferson University, and the board of trustees’ 1961 decision to not invite Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at W&L.

The group that focused on integration in athletics secured on-camera interviews with four former W&L athletes, including its first African-American athlete, Dennis Haston ’70. Haston, who ran track and field, and former basketball player Eugene Perry ’75, ‘78L, recounted upsetting incidents both on and off campus. In one example, Perry was invited by a coach to try out for the basketball team, only to find out the team had already been selected and jerseys had been ordered. But the men said they also found allies at W&L, including white fellow athletes.

“At the time when I came to W&L, I didn’t come to W&L to be a pioneer. But now if people look at me, they want to say, ‘You were a pioneer.’” Haston said. “I was one of the first ones to … open the door for other African-Americans to come. Maybe because of me doing that, it has made it easier for other students to come. I’m glad I had the opportunity. If I had to live my life over again, I would still do it. I have no regrets about the decision I made.”

Related: Read MaKayla Lorick’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Biography here.

The hours of raw interview footage collected by Wilson’s students has been sent to Special Collections, where it will bolster Lorick’s contributions and strengthen the university’s overall archive of materials related to desegregation and integration. Wilson is cautiously optimistic about what he sees as positive strides toward confronting some of the university’s most difficult history and smoothing the way for future students of color.

“In general in the U.S., we have a tough time confronting our history, and W&L is certainly at a critical moment where I think there is great possibility,” he said. “It is also something we have to approach carefully because we have a chance to set the tone and make an example, not only in the region but also to other academic institutions.

“How fortunate we are to have someone like MaKayla Lorick, with a blend of extraordinary talent and extraordinary passion,” he said. “To have someone like her involved in this project is a good first step.”

Next Steps
MaKayla Lorick plans to present her findings during Black Alumni Reunion weekend (March 8-9). She also has received a Johnson Opportunity Grant for summer 2019, which will allow her to gather more oral histories and develop a digital exhibit. She has begun to share her findings on her project website. As she prepares to graduate in December 2019, she will hand off the project to other students. One, Rose Hein ’22, has already been awarded a summer research scholar position to contribute to the ACS project.

Tom Camden, head of Special Collections and Archives at W&L, helps students in Professor Ricardo Wilson’s class, “Race, Memory, Nation,” as they begin research for their final projects. (Photo by Kevin Remington)

“Our hope is that this material and some of these questions will continue to be integrated into the classroom so students can be exposed and they can continue to work,” Bufkin said. “I think we are really excited to have this material support student-driven projects…It is a very collaborative effort. Nobody owns it or has a single direction.”

For MaKayla Lorick, what started as a two-month summer gig grew into an experience that she says “has really shaped me, has made me stronger, and has made me think that in a couple of years the university will truly be better.” She hopes that her daughter, Zara, 2, will someday become a General and will see her mother’s name on documents in university archives — a very different experience from her own.

“I can’t even imagine how that would have felt for me to see my mom’s name recording histories,” she said. “I hope that she can have that experience and she can know that anything is possible, that you can touch the stars and that you can be a history maker, and you can be on the right side of history, too.”

This story has been adapted slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

Sullivan Award Winner Shares Untold Stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

By Lindsey Nair

MaKayla Lorick, winner of the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Washington and Lee University (W&L), can trace her love of stories to early childhood, when her grandparents told lively yarns about their younger years. She followed that thread to W&L, where it has afforded her the opportunity to seek and record some of the university’s most important overlooked tales.

Lorick, an English major who is minoring in creative writing, has been working since the summer of 2018 on a multi-institutional project that aims to incorporate more African-American perspectives into the history of desegregation and integration at private Southern schools. Her role allows her to comb through W&L’s Special Collections and gather oral histories from black alumni, faculty and staff.

MaKayla Lorick received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award from Washington and Lee University in 2019.

“It’s such an exciting thing to dip your fingers into history and to listen to other people’s stories,” she said. “It betters your life and the lives of others. Just to color in one person’s perspective on history is beautiful.”

The overall project, “Pathway to Diversity: Uncovering Our Collections,” is a collaboration with Centre College and Sullivan Foundation partner schools Furman University and Rollins College, and is funded by a grant from Associated Colleges of the South (ACS). Along with its partner institutions, W&L is working to build a shared digital archive of information regarding the history of desegregation and integration at these schools. At W&L, the project is being led by Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of English Sydney Bufkin, with support from Tom Camden, head of Special Collections and Archives.

Compared to public colleges and universities in the South, whose public status and reliance on federal funding forced them to integrate in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, Bufkin said, “the history of integration at W&L looks very different. It’s quieter, but also less effective and slower. We are grappling with the consequences of a response to integration that really, when you look at the documents and history, appears to be an attempt to do as little as possible… It is a history that we continue to live, so I think recognizing some of the ways the institution has dealt with race—or not dealt with race—historically is really valuable and is something we can address a little more head-on, especially as we try to do things differently.”

Related: Learn more about how students like MaKayla Lorick qualify for the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Washington and Lee’s board of trustees did not take action regarding integration until a full decade after Brown vs. Board, in July 1964, with a statement that was viewed by most as deliberately vague and uninspired. Without using the words “integration,” “desegregation” or “race,” it simply stated that no policy of discrimination existed at W&L. It was accompanied by no effort to recruit students of color or make W&L a more welcoming place for them.

Another eight years passed before Carl Linwood Smothers and Walter Blake became the first African-American graduates of W&L in 1972. The W&L School of Law had awarded its first degree to a black student, Leslie Devan Smith Jr., in 1969.

 ‘Serendipity’
Initial goals for the ACS project included identifying materials currently in Special Collections that belong in the digital archive; creating an annotated bibliography; collecting oral histories from alumni, faculty and staff; and determining how to incorporate those materials into the curriculum. As Bufkin considered the oral history piece, she said, she immediately thought of Lorick, who had taken her African-American literature class.

photo MaKayla Lorick speaking to an audience

MaKayla Lorick has been combing through W&L’s Special Collections and gathering oral histories from black alumni, faculty and staff.

English professor Lesley Wheeler agreed that Lorick, her advisee, would be a perfect fit, as she has an interest in digital humanities, and spent the summer of 2016 assisting history professor Ted DeLaney on an African-American history project in Special Collections. (Since becoming involved in the project, Lorick was also selected to be a member of the Working Group on the History of African Americans at W&L). Although the ACS grant does not cover student researchers, Bufkin was able to fund Lorick’s role with Mellon Digital Humanities summer research funding and, as the academic year commenced, with a Mellon Digital Humanities Fellowship.

What started as a simple summer job search became something incredibly meaningful, Lorick said. “I thought I was just going to get some random summer job on campus but Professor Wheeler really opened a door with one tiny conversation. Stumbling onto this project is one of the best things that’s happened to me. It’s really serendipity.”

Lorick began by reading sections of Mame Warren’s 1998 history, “Come Cheer for Washington and Lee” and Blaine Brownell’s “Washington and Lee University: 1930-2000.” She also scoured yearbooks, scrapbooks, newspapers, letters and other sources in Special Collections to start a list of people to approach for oral histories.

While the project was initially focused on black men who graduated in 1974, the first year with a noteworthy number of black graduates (17), Lorick and Bufkin soon realized that scope was too narrow. They also knew that Warren had already collected oral histories from those men. Lorick wanted to include the perspectives of black women, who had not been interviewed for Warren’s book, so she began to build a list from the first few years of coeducation at W&L, from 1985-1990. She also wanted to include faculty and staff, not just alumni.

Related: Rollins College Remembers Alumnus and Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Fred Rogers

Midway through the summer, it was time to start scheduling interviews. Over the next couple of months, she would record conversations with Ted Delaney ’85, associate professor of history at W&L and a Lexington native; Edwin Walker, a retired Print Shop employee; Stephanie Coleman ’89; Willard Dumas III ’91; and Marquita Dunn, who retired from Dining Services. These interviews included questions about the subject’s first impressions of Lexington and W&L, and their experiences connected to integration and/or coeducation.

Some interview subjects recalled negative experiences at Washington and Lee, such as a white boyfriend’s reluctance to escort his black girlfriend on the homecoming court, or white professors taking advantage of a black employee’s intellect and work ethic while denying him the respect and upward mobility he deserved. But Lorick said she was surprised to find that the interviews were, for the most part, positive.

“It ended up being more positive than I expected,” she said. “Interview subjects do not forget about the bad, but they are better able to remember the good.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Joey Jennings overcame racism and poverty to become a top scholar/athlete at Winthrop University

Lorick said she also had to work through some disappointment over the lack of detail provided about segregation in Lexington, particularly about the relationships between white and black citizens. “When the first individual told me that there was nothing more to say, I thought, there has to be! But as I began to unravel the project a little bit more, I thought more about what segregation must have looked like, and in the end they were totally right. They didn’t really know their neighbors, and that was just the culture.”

Recording these views and closing even the smallest gaps in W&L’s institutional history has been fulfilling, Lorick said. As a first-year student, she was frustrated by the lack of black perspectives in the archives; now, through her work as an upperclassman, she will be directly responsible for changing other students’ experiences.

“I thought that W&L wasn’t making a big enough effort to cover the staff, faculty, students and alumni. When I came upon this project, I knew that there was a choice that I had to make and it was exciting and thrilling. I get to go through these archives all the time and I see the people who have recorded history. This time, I’ll be the one recording history.”

Digging Deeper
One requirement of the ACS grant was that each of the four colleges incorporate findings into a course. At W&L, that course was “Race, Memory, Nation,” a first-year Fall Term writing seminar taught by Assistant English Professor Ricardo Wilson. Wilson spent considerable time with Bufkin and Lorick in Special Collections over the summer to develop the course, which delved into issues of race, integration and civil rights.

another photo showing MaKayla Lorick at work

MaKayla Lorick gets ready to conduct an interview as Professor Ricardo Wilson and his students look on. (Photo by Kevin Remington)

With guidance from Lorick and Wilson, the students conducted research and selected topics about which they were required to produce video essays as final projects in the course. The four groups decided to focus on integration in athletics, coeducation, and two pivotal moments in W&L history: the 1923 football game against Washington and Jefferson University, and the board of trustees’ 1961 decision to not invite Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at W&L.

The group that focused on integration in athletics secured on-camera interviews with four former W&L athletes, including its first African-American athlete, Dennis Haston ’70. Haston, who ran track and field, and former basketball player Eugene Perry ’75, ‘78L, recounted upsetting incidents both on and off campus. In one example, Perry was invited by a coach to try out for the basketball team, only to find out the team had already been selected and jerseys had been ordered. But the men said they also found allies at W&L, including white fellow athletes.

“At the time when I came to W&L, I didn’t come to W&L to be a pioneer. But now if people look at me, they want to say, ‘You were a pioneer.’” Haston said. “I was one of the first ones to … open the door for other African-Americans to come. Maybe because of me doing that, it has made it easier for other students to come. I’m glad I had the opportunity. If I had to live my life over again, I would still do it. I have no regrets about the decision I made.”

Related: Read MaKayla Lorick’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award Biography here.

The hours of raw interview footage collected by Wilson’s students has been sent to Special Collections, where it will bolster Lorick’s contributions and strengthen the university’s overall archive of materials related to desegregation and integration. Wilson is cautiously optimistic about what he sees as positive strides toward confronting some of the university’s most difficult history and smoothing the way for future students of color.

“In general in the U.S., we have a tough time confronting our history, and W&L is certainly at a critical moment where I think there is great possibility,” he said. “It is also something we have to approach carefully because we have a chance to set the tone and make an example, not only in the region but also to other academic institutions.

“How fortunate we are to have someone like MaKayla Lorick, with a blend of extraordinary talent and extraordinary passion,” he said. “To have someone like her involved in this project is a good first step.”

Next Steps
MaKayla Lorick plans to present her findings during Black Alumni Reunion weekend (March 8-9). She also has received a Johnson Opportunity Grant for summer 2019, which will allow her to gather more oral histories and develop a digital exhibit. She has begun to share her findings on her project website. As she prepares to graduate in December 2019, she will hand off the project to other students. One, Rose Hein ’22, has already been awarded a summer research scholar position to contribute to the ACS project.

Tom Camden, head of Special Collections and Archives at W&L, helps students in Professor Ricardo Wilson’s class, “Race, Memory, Nation,” as they begin research for their final projects. (Photo by Kevin Remington)

“Our hope is that this material and some of these questions will continue to be integrated into the classroom so students can be exposed and they can continue to work,” Bufkin said. “I think we are really excited to have this material support student-driven projects…It is a very collaborative effort. Nobody owns it or has a single direction.”

For MaKayla Lorick, what started as a two-month summer gig grew into an experience that she says “has really shaped me, has made me stronger, and has made me think that in a couple of years the university will truly be better.” She hopes that her daughter, Zara, 2, will someday become a General and will see her mother’s name on documents in university archives — a very different experience from her own.

“I can’t even imagine how that would have felt for me to see my mom’s name recording histories,” she said. “I hope that she can have that experience and she can know that anything is possible, that you can touch the stars and that you can be a history maker, and you can be on the right side of history, too.”

This story has been adapted slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

This Bioplastics Entrepreneur Is Helping Save the World from Plastic Waste

Bioplastics innovator Julianna Keeling thinks a lot about creating a healthier planet. It’s something she’s been thinking about most of her life. “My parents taught me to respect people and the natural environment,” she said.

Growing up near Richmond, Virginia, Keeling, a 2019 graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University, took annual trips to Maine with her family. While hiking through Acadia National Forest, she said, “I would pause to press my hands onto the trunks of vibrant, strong trees and into the fertile soil, feeling its energy. I remember being in awe of the raw earth and feeling as though I was part of it. I’ve maintained that sense of being one with the planet since then.”

Keeling has turned that passion for the environment into a profitable business creating products that look and perform like plastic but break down like plants. Her company’s single-use bioplastic products are engineered to break down in sea and river water and the soil for consumers who want to reduce the nearly eight million tons of plastic waste polluting Earth’s oceans each year — not to mention the tens of millions of tons of land-based plastics.

Keeling began her business—Terravive, or “the Earth sustains itself”—in the spring of 2015 as a first-year student at Washington and Lee. But she had been thinking about and planning it since high school. “I was accepted into Henrico County’s STEM specialty program, and my first project looked at methylcellulose. As a result, I became aware of naturally occurring materials that could be as effective as plastics with similar performance characteristics.”

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art.

Terravive is a supplier of biodegradable tableware (cutlery, cups and bowls), various sizes of straws, resealable bags for food, trash bags, shopping bags, adhesives (stickers and clear masking tape) and industrial films. Most Terravive bioplastics products will break down in 90 days or less in a residential or commercial compost pile, ocean, river or soil.

Terravive has rapidly established its brand as the preeminent supplier of green plastic products. “When people see the Terravive brand on any product, anywhere in the world, I want them to think high-quality bioplastic that is better for you and the environment,” Keeling said.

Keeling took a gap year between her first year and sophomore years to work in San Francisco, where she said she “learned valuable lessons from its vibrant technology ecosystem.” With help from the former chief of research and development for PepsiCo, Keeling learned how to find and work with manufacturers on biodegradable packaging products. She was focused on both sustainability and reduction of corporate disposal expenditures.

See a complete listing of Terravive’s bioplastics products here.

this photo illustrates the huge need for bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment

Bioplastics that break down naturally in the environment could dramatically reduce plastic waste worldwide.

Back at W&L, Keeling continued to work on her bioplastics business. After graduation, she became one of eight start-up company owners accepted into the highly competitive Target Incubator program.

“Target is a socially minded, brand-conscious and forward-thinking company,” said Keeling. The company wants to be more attractive to Gen Z and Gen Alpha consumers and strategically selects start-ups for the incubator program that are solving issues that Target faces. The four-month program combines virtual programming with an eight-week residency at Target headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the residency, Keeling received mentorship, met with subject matter experts and participated in tailored workshops and team-building exercises, “all geared toward healthy, high-growth company operations while keeping the consumer’s needs forefront.”

Related: 15 tips for zero-waste beginners

In Richmond, she works with a second incubator program, Lighthouse Labs, that is focused on helping her build the Terravive brand and infrastructure of the business for sustained growth. She just hired an experienced entrepreneur as COO. Joe Swider is a mechanical engineer, graduate of VMI and a former U.S. Naval officer. He is working on corporate strategy, building out the team and operational infrastructure in order to scale the business. Currently Terravive supplies products to retail, restaurants, universities, government entities and other businesses.

Keeling stays hands-on with the business, often dealing with distribution herself seven days a week. She also oversees marketing and sales, focusing on extending the brand and the positive ecological impact of her products. “It involves hustling and calling people up. It’s not a hard product to sell,” she said, “because potential customers find they don’t have to spend more than they currently do on plastic products, yet they can have an immediate impact on the environment.” When taking into account the cost of disposing of plastic products, many customers can actually reduce their expenditures with bioplastics.

Balancing rigorous organic chemistry, biology and environmental studies courses at W&L and starting a company while in college was “really challenging,” said Keeling. “It was time- and resource-intensive. I sacrificed a lot.” She is grateful for the Johnson Scholarship, which “gave me the flexibility to choose what I was really passionate about.” The merit scholarship “afforded me the ability to take intellectual risks and really consider what I wanted to do with my life.”

Related: EarthSuds’ shampoo tablets could replace single-use plastic bottles in hotels

She said she appreciates the support offered by Robert Humston, John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and professor of biology and her advisor. “He was awesome and awarded me the Earle Bates Prize,” given to a graduating student who has shown excellence in academics, co-curricular activities, and contributions to the campus and community.

Kim Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education, worked closely with Keeling on composting research at W&L. As a result, “I saw first-hand how Terravive products break down.” This winter, Hodge and Keeling will co-present their research at the U.S. Composting Council.

Finally, a Spring Term class that took Keeling to the Lakota Indians’ Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota taught her that “our time on earth is not just about making money. We are tied to larger systems—other people and animals.”

Keeling has taken her life’s experiences—from hikes in Acadia to composting at W&L to learning the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world at Pine Ridge—and crafted a purpose and direction in life that will not only sustain her but also will help sustain the planet. “We at Terravive have an opportunity to build a high-growth, profitable business that moves the needle and creates a healthier planet for future generations.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.