Community engagement is integral to the pursuit of William & Mary’s mission and values. However, historically, William & Mary has defined our community in exclusive terms. At different moments, our community on campus has included men but not women, and white students and faculty but not BIPOC students and faculty. Enslaved people subsidized the education of white male students, while building a foundation on which the university has grown. We have excluded members of other groups as well, including people with disabilities, non-Christians, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
We have also sustained partnerships in our broader communities—both locally and globally—that have privileged some groups over others. During segregation, for example, W&M provided expertise and resources to local white schools and refused Black schools the same (Byrd 1968; Rowe 1997).
These exclusive definitions of community and practices of community engagement have denied some the opportunity to participate in the university’s mission to engage in lifelong learning, generate new knowledge, and expand understanding. These practices have also impeded the pursuit of our core values and commitment to cultivating creative thinkers, principled leaders, and compassionate global citizens.
Today at William & Mary, our community engagement must be reparative; it must address the definitions and practices of community engagement that have generated inequalities. It must also be generative; building interdependent relationships with partners on an equal footing.
Our community engagement today aspires to engage collaboratively to co-produce knowledge that brings innovation and supports the work of justice in our communities. These collaborations respect the wealth of knowledge that exists in the broader community and aim to build community members’ roles in setting research and artistic agendas, generating new knowledge and understandings, and sharing results. They also fulfill our public purpose as a university, addressing the most pressing needs of our time through shared learning, outreach, and engagement, while preparing students to contribute to their future communities.
By defining and expressing how we will engage with communities outside of William & Mary, we seek to repair damage and create space for healing, generative relationships and partnerships. We may then build toward greater excellence as scholars, teachers, and learners, while fostering belonging for all our community members.
Byrd, Rawls. 1968. History of Public Schools in Williamsburg. Williamsburg, VA
Rowe, Linda H. 1997. A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights School. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series – 0373. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.