A conversation last week at The College of William & Mary, an elite institution of higher education in Virginia, didn’t go well. The students who met with President W. Taylor Reveley III issued a list of demands. Reveley had been open in his discussion with the students until that point, but told them “I don’t deal in demands.”
The video of their conversation is below. It is long, but very telling. It captures a sense of entitlement that is all to common among college students.
Let’s begin with a simple premise. Students go to college to learn from those who are experts in their field. This is especially true for William & Mary. Yet these students begin their meeting by trying to explain to the college’s president how he should be doing his job.
When the administrator with decades of academic leadership experience explains why some of the students’ ideas aren’t practical, they get testy and issue their demands.
Reveley then shot that idea down:
“I don’t deal in demands. I don’t make demands of other people. I don’t expect to receive demands from people. I love to get suggestions, recommendations, strong arguments. … When you approach other people with a demand, instead of their ears opening and their spirit being unusually receptive, you get defensive walls erected. So I think you all need to think about it.”
“The suggestion thing…,” one student responded. “Interesting point. But I’m going to disagree.”
“That is the beauty of the First Amendment,” Reveley agreed.
The student then pressed on with her demands. Reveley then broke in to critique the delivery. “No, no, no, that’s not the way the world works. It is not effective, in my opinion, to approach other people and say ‘we demand’ unless you have the capacity to demand.”
“We are students, and we pay tuition to be here. That is the reason why we are able to write these demands,” a student retorted.
Another chimed in, “So you have an issue with the way that we are phrasing this? … I think you’re missing the point … We’ve tried to be nice … It’s not working. So, if you don’t want to have issues on this campus that are affecting students of color, then you have to listen to students of color when they tell you this is what needs to happen …”
The students, lacking all rhetorical awareness, felt strength in their numbers and continued with their ineffectual tactics. The continued to spin in references to color, which eventually prompted Reveley to remind them that he was part of the discussion. “I got color, too,” he said. “I’m white.”
If nothing else, it got their attention.
One student, Erica N. West, later blew up on Facebook:
“If you were wondering what “speaking truth to power” looks like, this it … This is what being censored looks like. This is what white supremacy looks like. This is what patriarchy looks like. This is what condescension looks like. This is what being told “you, your issues and your life don’t matter” looks like. THIS is why we say #BlackLivesMatter.”
There’s a rhetorical irony here, too. The students, all-of-whom have a vast wealth of administrative experience, were telling President Reveley and William & Mary “you, your issues and your life don’t matter.”