• Pamela Steimel

A Residence of Agency

Why am I here? Am I supposed to be here? Why me?


I can’t help it; they’re questions I’ve asked myself all too many times. It wasn’t until that question, why are you here, came from the lips of a complete stranger on Lee-Jackson Day earlier this year that I really gave it any thought. Or more importantly, an answer.

I’m here because it is time for Washington and Lee to change. I am supposed to be a part of that change. I am that change—my very presence incites change. It definitely incites acknowledgement that change needs to happen. It acknowledges that change is happening. Change will happen. Not only would I like to be at the heart of it—I’d like to participate and even be the cause of it. My mom likes to remind me that she did not know why I was so eager to be born at six months, but she knew I was coming for a good reason, an important reason. I believe she’s right.


Another year, another decade. Another chance to rectify history, and to make it. When I was introduced to the university, it was sold as the cultivating garden for future politicians, diplomats, and the like. The advertisement was not wrong. I sat in classes like Global Politics with Professor Cantey and realized I care more about the world around me and what happens to it politically. I’ve advocated for the ERA and woman’s rights and #BlackLivesMatter. Although, that comes with the territory and responsibility of being a minority (yes, being Black and a woman makes me a “double minority”, just to clarify). Two years later, I’m a sophomore at Washington and Lee—a global history major. I study history to be a part of the people who refuse to let it repeat itself. History is change, and the documentation of that change.


Previously, I’ve stated that one of the overwhelming facts of W&L is that there is a certain air of entitlement and pretentiousness that comes with the place. Sometimes, that air can be overwhelming. Or rather— suffocating. There have been many times where I feel like I cannot breathe from it, or that I’d rather be home because at least I know that territory. At home, I know what I am dealing with. I know what to expect from people and I know what people to avoid. Here, that is not the case. Here is a new terrain to navigate and with new people to learn from. There’s always something new to behold, and it is not always something that pleases me. Whether it is another comment poised in ignorance or a microaggression, it is something that comes with the territory of being at this school. In fact, it comes with the territory of being a person of color in this country.


Here’s the twist: being a person of color and having the opportunities I have here are a benefit—to me at least, and to anyone else I can motivate to make a difference. I have an opportunity my parents only dream of, and an administration that supports it. It may not be all of the administration, which is fine, but I know who is in my corner. So, when groups like the Spectator write on how they do not want to sign the white book or did not sign the white book because they do not want to be “forced” to acknowledge diversity or when the Generals Redoubt comes around to push their desire for the old-fashioned “conservative” values that made W&L great, it is my duty to stand up for what I and other people believe in on this campus. Washington and Lee has come so far from their past, and yes, it still has many steps to take, but at least they know it.


To answer a few questions, yeah, there are still students who refuse to acknowledge my existence. There are students who think diversity is a sham. There are students who do not think women are being oppressed, and there are students who do not think Black women are one of the lowest paid groups in America. Yes, these ideals push my buttons, but in the best way. They work me up and fuel my inner fire. It is the constant belief of ideas, like the aforementioned, that push my responsibility. So, I still get uncomfortable by inequality and racism, as I should, but I suppose in a way, I should thank everyone who is responsible for it. You remind me of my inheritance of boldness, duty, and my own honor.


This is not a manifesto, but a declaration of who I am; who I know I am, and who this campus will see. For better or for worse, my agency, your agency, our agency comes in standing up for change. We have to. We must. To a lot of my fellow students, college is a four-year game, and they are here to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that. But the way I see it, this place is a cultivating ground for future leaders, game-changers, and earth-shakers. I want to be one of them, and I am one of them. I will continue to be one of them, and so can you. I like to think of last year as the year of ashes, but this year is the year of my phoenix, my rebirth. Better yet, it is my evolution in the midst of my revolution. I know my voice and I intend to use it. Fighting for my friends is great but fighting for those who cannot speak or are too afraid to speak is also a job that must be done. They have a right to be protected, just like everyone else does.


So, back to that initial question of why I am here: I am here as a person of passion and sensibility, with a compass of justice and truth that must always be upheld. I am here as a person to stand and rise to the occasion of making a change and being the change instead of simply complaining about it. I need to be at Washington and Lee, because our institutional history needs to propel on the side of good, right, and just. MLK offers the quote, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” So, I poise the question—what is your ultimate measure?

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