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W&M: Stop Bankrolling a Plantation, Especially with Student Funds

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BOV Budget- May 12,2020

James Monroe’s Plantation, called Highland, was given to the College of William and Mary in 1974 by Jay Winston Johns, the previous owner. Since this time, the College spends an ample amount of funding every year to maintain and operate this plantation as a tourist attraction. According to the website, this plantation can be used for private events like Weddings, is a “great” location for school field trips, and gives daily tours year-round for a small fee. 

The worst part is funding for this plantation stems from Parking Fees, Dining Halls, and Residence Halls. This means that William and Mary is currently running a for-profit plantation off of student funds- an estimated $500k-$600k per year- sometimes more. A plantation that consistently runs in a deficit. Rather than dedicate these funds to residence hall improvement, towards dining halls, scholarships, or any other form of student improvement- Our campus funds a plantation. This plantation lost over $486,000 last year- and retained a budget of over a million dollars for the Fall 2020 school year.

The plantation gives the usual historic tours, targeted at families as a vacation location. The website says that “Enslaved women and men lived on the property for several generations, and had deeper connections to this place than did Monroe, who was often away in public office. Like other plantation owners and members of the founding generation, Monroe enslaved as many as 250 enslaved persons in his lifetime.” and that “The contradiction between Monroe’s personal practice on the one hand, and his personal beliefs and political action on the other, cannot be denied. Yet his example is instructive, showing him to be a man of his time—aspiring to virtue and justice.”.While on a tour, one can see demonstrations of the chores’ slaves did on this plantation. 

Through all of the descriptions on the website, it is clear that this plantation doesn’t exist for any form of education. It exists to glorify Monroe and make money off of a legacy built on oppression, while simultaneously sugar-coating the existence of slavery. The Wikipedia page states that Monroe employed slaves on the campus, and the website paints Monroe as a benevolent man of his time who ‘didn’t know better’ as if he didn’t push for the returning of Black Americans to Africa because he felt they would never belong in the Union. 

It is extremely disturbing that our campus chooses to direct funds towards this plantation yearly while writing a completely inaccurate history and profiting off of this plantation as a meeting space and wedding venue. It is completely unethical to glorify and minimize slavery in this way. 

Does William and Mary actually care about its Black students? Or any of their students? Because it is very hard to see when over half the buildings on campus are named after slave owners and the school is still paying over half a million dollars a year to maintain a for-profit plantation. It is very hard to see when our campus chooses to funnel large amounts of money every year that could be used for student improvement to fund a plantation doesn’t return on its monetary investments.



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