Residential Spaces: Creating A Home
Inside the Walls of Jefferson
Jefferson Hall, named after alum and former president, Thomas Jefferson, was constructed during 1920 to 1921 as a women’s dormitory. Jefferson housed female students of all years and became the site where Janet Brown Strafer’s, Karen Ely’s, and Lynn Briley’s college journey together first began. The three women were roommates in the Jefferson’s basement--the space they first called home--until their senior year at the College when they moved off-camous. Although they were unaware at the time, Brown Strafer, Ely, and Briley were also the first residential African Americans at William and Mary. Their presence at the College helped create the first layer in William & Mary's spaces that encapsulated the stories of African American students.
Creating a Home Away From Home
Life at the women’s dormitory came with its own traditions, rules, and experiences. Women, unlike men, were assigned a house mother, the equivalent of a modern RA. William & Mary's housing policies included additional regulations for women, including strict dress codes and a curfew. The Legacy 3 playfully recounted the attendance cards, “blue cards,” that they were required to flip upon returning to the dormitory. Sometimes the women would cover for each other, flipping each other’s cards in advance so that fellow hallmates could stay out late at night. As Ely, Brown Strafer, and Briley, remembered, their corner room in the Jefferson basement made them a favorite amongst the women — their hallmates would peep their faces in their corner window and enter from the side doors, escaping their house mother and the constricting bed checks.
These small acts strengthened bonds and created a sisterhood between the women living in the hall, which the Legacy 3 fondly remembers as their main relationships on campus. Dorm festivities and bonding activities for the Legacy 3 including ones that students, especially freshmen, are accustomed to even today— birthday parties, getting ready together for homecoming, and even late-night conversations. The Legacy 3 laughed at the coincidence of them all being placed together in the same room, but their placement proved to be fortunate. In the middle of orientation, Brown Strafer, Ely, and Briley glanced through the room, “looking to their left and right.” Suddenly, it dawned upon them that “[they] were the only ones” — the only African American residential students--among the sea of white students. Together, in a triple in Jefferson, they became the first students to color spaces at W&M with a new layer of history and minority experiences.
Walking through campus 50 years after African Americans first studied at the College, Brown Strafer, Ely, and Briley, transverse familiar spaces, each representing a thread in their collective narrative. These spaces speak of transition, resiliency and lived experiences. The Legacy 3’s journey at William & Mary engaged directly with the spaces students work, live, and grow in today. While their experiences approached this familiar landscape from a new vantage point, their stories speak to shared humanity. Moving in freshman year, saying heartfelt goodbyes to loved ones, and adjusting to a new environment--these are all notable and shared memories for both the Legacy 3 and students now. The transition to college, as the women recounted, was essentially, “the same for us as it was for you.” It’s easy to forget the overlap between William & Mary as it was for the Legacy 3 and William & Mary now— ---physical buildings like Jefferson Hall are physical reminders of each person’s individual and collective experiences.