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Voices from the community

The following members of the William & Mary community and beyond shared their thoughts on the most recent announcement regarding the naming and renaming of campus buildings and structures. Most of the people below had close or familial relationships with the people who are being honored or were significantly affected by their lives and work.

John E. Boswell ’69

John E. Boswell ’69, who earned a doctorate from Harvard, was a professor at Yale University whose scholarship in Medieval History reshaped the field by uncovering LGBTQ+ people and traditions from that time. A gay man, Boswell also founded the Lesbian and Gay Studies Center at Yale in 1987.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers and former chief of staff to Virginia Gov. George Allen:

For centuries, William & Mary has shaped the history of our Commonwealth, and by choosing to honor John Boswell, the university is unmistakably helping lead Virginia toward a more inclusive future. By helping others understand LGBT persons’ once overlooked place in history, Boswell helped ensure modern society has a place for all families.

Jeff Trammell, former W&M rector and the first openly gay chair of the governing board of a major public university:

It brings honor to our 328 year old institution that we name an academic building for an alumnus who used his William & Mary education to improve the lives of millions of Americans. John Boswell’s scholarship inspired the recognition of same-sex relationships here and around the world.  And, personally, it helped make it possible for William & Mary Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor to marry my husband and me in the U.S. Supreme Court.”   

Evan Wolfson, civil rights lawyer who was the founder and president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign that won marriage equality in the United States:

John Boswell wrote the book that changed my life. Reading his Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality -- on the beach, wrapped in a fake cover, while I visited my grandparents in Florida -- inspired me to write my 1983 law school thesis on winning marriage for gay people. Beyond the evidence that gay love had not always been oppressed or stigmatized, what Jeb's history taught me was that if things had once been different, we could make them different again. After graduating, I met and marched with Jeb in my first-ever gay pride parade; he told me then of the book he was researching on same-sex unions and we joyously bounced ideas off each other all the way down NYC's Fifth Avenue. Jeb's scholarship and friendship strengthened and sustained me as we turned a student paper into the successful campaign to win the freedom to marry -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Arthur A. Matsu ’27

Arthur A. Matsu '27 was a student leader and four-sport athlete at W&M who earned national attention for his role as quarterback for the W&M football team. He went on to play in the NFL for the (now defunct) Dayton Triangles, and is thought to be one of the first Asian Americans — and the first W&M alumnus — to play in the NFL. He later coached football at Rutgers University, one of the first in a long line of professional coaches to graduate from W&M.

Professors Francis Tanglao Aguas and Deenesh Sohoni, co-chairs of W&M’s Asian Centennial:

Art Matsu’s matriculation at William & Mary ushered in the possibility of breaking down the entrenched racial barriers that prevented students of color, especially African Americans, from enrolling at the university. In his own way and with what was possible in that era, Art Matsu was vocal in calling truth to power through efforts like his commitment to the Order of the White Jacket. May the appearance of his name, in the welcoming arches of the Arcade in Zable Stadium, be a reverberating sign to all of his legacy of actively engaged leadership and exemplary athletic excellence that brought national acclaim to William & Mary.

The Asian Centennial Committee and the larger W&M Asian, Pacific Islander, Southwest Asian/Middle Eastern community appreciates President Katherine Rowe’s proactive advocacy in creating this space in Zable Stadium. We hope the Art Matsu arches usher in for many generations an opportunity to reflect and discern on how our community can further ameliorate the plight of diverse and minoritized students, faculty, and staff who like Art Matsu join William & Mary in hopes of flourishing as individuals welcomed and treated with dignity and respect. At a period when anti-Asian hate and violence are becoming more prevalent, this recognition provides a measure of solace to our community under siege.

Harrison Ruffin Tyler ’49

Harrison Ruffin Tyler ’49, who earned a chemistry degree from W&M, was the cofounder of ChemTreat Inc., an industrial water treatment company. He committed $5 million to William & Mary’s history department in 2001.

Frederick Corney, chair of the W&M Department of History:

The Department of History supports changing its name from the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History to the Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History in honor of the donor of the endowment. When he pledged his gift twenty years ago, Harrison Ruffin Tyler did so with no strings attached, enabling us to undertake nuanced historical research at the faculty, graduate, and undergraduate levels into often fractious and controversial topics. Moreover, our ability to bring in prominent guest lecturers as a result of this support has expanded the audience of this department and university. Seminal topics now animating public discussion have been the focus of lecture series on confederate memorials and monuments in Virginia and beyond; the exclusionary legacies of slavery, imperialism, and settler colonialism; and the complex history of women and gender in the United States and elsewhere. The Harrison Ruffin Tyler Endowment allows us to continue to promote research and educational initiatives examining past and present structures of racism and inequality in Virginia, the Americas, and the wider world. Furthermore, continuance of this gift sustains the reach of our research into many more realms besides

Frances Tyler, granddaughter of Harrison Ruffin Tyler:

Although my grandfather did not seek to memorialize himself, it is fitting that the department he generously supported take his name rather than his father’s. My grandfather loves William & Mary. His gift to the Department of History continues to support remarkable research into the lives of those previously excluded from historical study, and this legacy better matches the goals of the students and faculty who constitute the university today.

William Tyler, son of Harrison Ruffin Tyler:

I am grateful to William & Mary and President Rowe for complying with my request to rename the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History to the Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History. I feel that this change recognizes the contributions of my father, whose gift has enriched the Department and the research it conducts. This name change honors him and all of us who are members of his family greatly.

Hulon Willis Sr. M.Ed. ’56

Hulon Willis Sr. M.Ed. ’56 enrolled at William & Mary in 1951 after earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Virginia State University. After receiving his master’s at W&M, he became a health and physical education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and directed that university’s campus police. Willis led the way for all of the African-American students who attended W&M after him, including both his son Hulon Willis Jr. ’77 and granddaughter Mica Willis ’12.

Warren W. Buck III M.S. '70, Ph.D. '76, D.Sc. ’13, chair of the Principles of Naming and Renaming Working Group and special advisor for equity in the 21st century to President Katherine A. Rowe:

In its final report, the PNR Working Group was very pleased to recommend Hulon Willis, Sr., as a possible name for William & Mary naming and renaming actions. I am very happy that President Rowe and the Board of Visitors have chosen to honor Hulon Willis, Sr., and his family with this transformative choice on a prominent campus building.

Chon Glover M.Ed.'90; Ed.D.'99, W&M chief diversity officer:

While we have sought other ways to recognize Hulon Willis, having a building bear his name will mean that many more people will learn about his story and the  hundreds of African-American students for whom he paved the way. This will be the third building on campus named for significant African-American people in the university’s history. In addition to residence halls named for Lemon, one of the people enslaved by William & Mary, and Dr. Carroll F.S. Hardy, a trailblazing administrator and advocate for diversity, we now have a building whose namesake represents another significant segment of the university’s African-American community: its students.

Caleb Taliaferro Rogers ‘20, Williamsburg City Councilman:

Taliaferro Hall sat next to William & Mary’s Admissions Office, meaning it was one of the first buildings prospective students passed. This was my case too, but the building stuck out especially as Taliaferro is my middle name, my mother’s maiden name. I remember taking a picture by it after my interview and my tour as a high school senior, at that point unaware of the identity of the building’s namesake and only thinking the distant relation made it a foregone conclusion that William & Mary was the place for me.

General William Booth Taliaferro was the 6th cousin of my direct ancestor. The relationship is distant at best. I have no idea who my 9th cousins are, his great-grandchildren. Over my years at William & Mary though, learning about this distant relationship actually made me feel closer to the building. But the growing connection was not a source of pride, as what I was learning was the legacy of General Taliaferro and what that meant today.

Up until today, that meant that near anyone visiting campus and near every student regularly walked past a residence hall whose namesake was an unrepentant secessionist who continued post-Civil War working against Reconstruction efforts to expand civil rights. General Taliaferro secured funding for William & Mary and expanded our curriculum during his Board of Visitors term. This however does not outweigh his iniquities.

As the historical institution we are, I am glad we are considering the full history of a person in renaming Taliaferro Hall for Hulon Willis, a U.S. Army veteran and a pioneer throughout his life, especially as William & Mary’s first Black graduate.

Hulon L. Willis Jr. ’77, son of Hulon Willis Sr.:

The desire of a faculty member, coach and graduate of Virginia State (College) University, to obtain his M.Ed. in the early 1950’s led to the integration of the nation’s second oldest institution of higher education and the first of three generations of an African American family to graduate from William & Mary. Our family is honored that William & Mary has considered renaming Taliaferro Hall to Willis Hall to honor my dad. He did not discuss at length about his summers at William & Mary as a graduate student, but it was obvious that there were challenges, not living in student housing but renting a room at a house on Braxton Court; being the only Black student at the university, and the threats from students to leave the graduate honor society if he was inducted into it. I also remember dad speaking very highly about Coach William Smith and Dr. Wayne Kernodle, of whom I also had as a professor at William & Mary.

Regardless of his challenges, Dad took pride as a graduate of William & Mary and the fact that both of his children attended the university. Dad died one year before the birth of his only grandchild, so he did not know that the legacy he started has continued with Mica. The naming of Willis Hall in honor of dad will add to the magnificent history of William & Mary, the State of Virginia and great diversity of people upon which this country was founded.

Mica Willis ’12, granddaughter of Hulon Willis Sr.:

It’s an honor that a residence hall will be named after my grandfather. Many people know the name Hulon L. Willis, Sr., but many don’t know his story. My grandfather was not only a student at William & Mary but he was also a veteran, coach, 10th Degree Black Belt (Shihan) in karate and much more. His journey to get to William & Mary is one that at times was met with adversity; William & Mary had to first obtain written permission from the attorney general for Virginia before admitting him. The naming of this hall gives students of color a chance to see themselves in a man in which a building is named after. This is a great honor to add to his legacy.