Transcript Index
Search This Transcript
Go X

ï"¿Emily Walters: If we could go ahead and start with the basics, where you were born. I know you did your graduate degree here, right?

Susan Anderson: Right.

Emily: What brought you to Virginia Tech and what drew you to it?

Susan: So you want to start with my birth? I was born November 16, 1957 in Lynchburg. I grew up in Amherst County, Virginia, and so I'm a Virginian born and bred. I went to what is now called the University of Mary Washington as an undergraduate. It was then Mary Washington College, and I majored in mathematics and classical civilization. At the time that I was a student there it had not been co-ed for very many years and the ratio of women to men was 7 to 1. And so women were leaders everywhere, the student government president, leaders and officers and all the organizations. So I graduated from a campus where there was 1:00certainly equality and I assumed naively that everywhere in the world there was equality, too. [Chuckles] And I came to Virginia Tech as a graduate student in 1980, and as you know we have a very military background here. There were nowhere near as many women on campus as students or faculty as where I had come from, and I realized that we had a long way to go for equality.

I graduated with my master's here in 1982 and fortunately I was given a job here as an instructor, so I've been an instructor here at Virginia Tech ever since. I'm now a senior instructor and so that's the highest I can get, and hopefully will retire here.

Emily: And so you're in the Math Department.

Susan: Right.

Emily: So we could view you as a woman in a man's world. Do you have anything to 2:00speak to that? Have we come the long way that you saw we needed to come when you first started here?

Susan: We're coming the long way. I would say that is certainly true. For about a decade I was in charge of a program here in our Math Department called Women in Mathematics: Career Day at Virginia Tech, where we invited sixth graders from all over our region to participate in a half-day program to turn those young women on to mathematics. We picked sixth graders because we felt like it was about the middle school age that students, young women students, were tracking out of STEM fields, and so we were trying to catch them before that happened. We thought high school was a little bit too late, that they might already be on their own particular trajectories that didn't involve the STEM world. So, that was a great program. Then it stopped for a while just due to logistics and now 3:00we've started it up again.

In its heyday we had 250 students annually. I'm not in charge of that program anymore, but now we're up to about 90, so we're getting back. But it was a great day for students to come. As you probably know very often girls don't speak up if there are boys in the room. Another example is girls sometimes don't eat a lot when boys are in the room, and so they could have this day where they could ask questions and show that they were excited if they were about math. I talked several times over the years to a teacher at one of our local public schools who is now retired, and he told me that it was such a spark for some of his students, that he would do follow-up programs when they got back to school. And so he really encouraged them, and I think we were the kickstart, but he kept 4:00that energy and that excitement going. I don't know if other teachers throughout the region were doing that same thing, but it definitely made an impact on many, many girls.

Emily: Do you know if they then pursued mathematics or STEM...?

Susan: We never followed up with them and I'm sorry to say that's something that we should have done and we didn't.

Emily: I'm sure there was a huge impact though with something like that, because we didn't have anything like that when we were growing up.

Susan: Right.

Emily: So you are heavily involved with both the University and the community, so you've been on the town council and now Vice Mayor for a second or third term?

Susan: This is my third term as Vice Mayor, yeah.

Emily: What led you to become involved? Not only are you on several committees with Town [Council] relations and things like that, but you are also the faculty advisor for the United Feminist Movement, and then you are also the treasurer for the Montgomery County National Organization for Women, the Women's Resource 5:00Center for the New River Valley, so what led you to get involved with all of that?

Susan: I guess that's a very complicated kind of question. Let me start with town council, which actually is later I guess in my history. I became on town council because I was asked to run. It never occurred to me, though I had worked on many other local candidates' campaigns, it had never occurred to me to run for office. And probably that's partly due to what I saw as a young woman growing up. You look at pictures on the walls of bank presidents or the board of the bank or the board of almost any organization, and they were all these white guys, so you didn't see yourself or I didn't see myself in that picture.

It was about 2004 here in Blacksburg when some people started approaching me to 6:00see if I would run for town council. There was an issue that was a huge issue for us at that time about whether or not to put a sewer into our Tom's Creek Basin, which is part of our community, part of the Town of Blacksburg. And to put a sewer in that we were encouraging development on the edge of town. Not to put the sewer in meant that we were as a town looking at more modest development out in that region. There was a pretty big tension between different segments of the community, and so the segment that did not want the sewer knew that I was an environmentalist type, a justice kind of person and thought that I would be a good candidate to help with that effort.

A friend of mine, Don Langreher, had decided to run for council at that point in time and so I said, "No way, I'm supporting Don." I certainly didn't want two 7:00progressive candidates to pull votes from each other. I wanted somebody to win and get some help there, and so Don did run. We supported him, he did win and that was great, and that sewer project was stopped, so that was a real win for the community. And then two years later people asked me to run again and so I said I would, but I think the key was somebody suggested that to me. I don't think it would ever occur to me myself to run for office, and I would say for all women candidates, for all minority candidates, diversity candidates, what I think those folks need to hear is the same thing that I heard. I heard multiple times, "We want you to run." But more importantly they said, "If you run we will help you." And they said that numerous times, and the kicker is they really did. 8:00They were there to help me go door to door to canvas. They helped me with fundraising. They contributed that initial amount of money to help me get going, to get your handbill printed and those kinds of things.

And so I think candidates who are people of the community, people that are not wealthy can't do it alone. You don't want to risk going into debt with a campaign, and so I think it really does take a community. It's like it takes a village to raise a child; it really takes a village to run a successful candidate. You need to have a candidate who people can believe in, but you need the village to help that candidate.

Emily: Were you one of the first women on the town council? Did you face any resistance?

Susan: I wasn't one of the first women, and I don't know what the greatest number of women at one time was before I got on.


I know that I only saw two women out of seven on council in my memory and then when I got my seat it was the year that there was only one woman still on council and she was retiring, and so I replaced that one woman in a sense. We are at-large candidates, so we don't run as districts. But I was only the second Vice Mayor woman in the history of Blacksburg. And at that moment we had never had a woman mayor and we are a fairly progressive community, so I find that not surprising, but definitely interesting. And so again, I was the second woman Vice Mayor in the history of Blacksburg. The way Blacksburg Town Council historically does this, this is not written in any of our policies, but tradition has it that whoever gets the most votes in that election cycle, whichever candidate gets the most votes the Town Council then elects that person 10:00to be Vice Mayor. So I was elected by the people that year in 2006 for a four-year term. But then Town Council elected me for a two-year term as Vice Mayor. And so then two years later Leslie Hager-Smith ran for the first time. She got the most votes, so she was the third woman Vice Mayor in the history of Blacksburg.

Two years later it was my election cycle again and I became Vice Mayor. My following cycle Krisha Chachra beat me, got the most votes and sowas a Vice Mayor, but then I got the most votes this last time. And one interesting thing that happened along the way was when I first got elected in 2006 we had May elections. During my first term on council we decided to move our election cycle to November, and for good reasons. The idea was more people would vote so you 11:00would have more citizenry involved, and that really is true and that certainly has happened. The only downside to that, and I think we should keep them in November, but the downside to that was in May we were the only thing happening. You weren't also competing for attention in a governor's race or a presidential race or board of supervisors and this kind of stuff. And so it was easier to get the attention of the newspapers, easier for the candidates to get their message out, and I think a little bit easier for the populous to be able to see what was going on. We've lost that, so that was a perk, but certainly are getting more people involved in the election cycle. And so at that time we had to make a decision as council: Do we decide to shorten our election cycle, so serve only 31/2 years, or to usurp power and go an extra six months (and nobody thought that was a good idea). And so we had a short election term, and now it's back to 12:00four years.

So that's that. As far as being interested in women's groups or more inclusive organizations, my mom was the youngest of five daughters, and then she had four daughters, so there are no sons in that line of the family, so we did what I think they call daughtered-out. You lose the family name, right. But anyway, so I grew up in rural Virginia outside of Lynchburg in Amherst County in a little tiny village called Agricola and that's Latin for farmer, which is probably one reason why I was a double major in college. Besides my math major, I was a classical civilization major. I also had a really wonderful Latin teacher who turned me on to Latin. But anyway, we grew up there. My mom grew up helping her 13:00mom and dad. They ran a general store. My grandfather who died before I was born was the postmaster when he passed away. My mom's mom, my grandmother, became the postmistress and she ran that store. And I don't know whether I got my love of math from her. Looking back she had the most beautiful handwriting, and this was before calculators were used, could add up big long series of numbers, or my dad, who taught chemistry and physics in high school and became a public school principal towards the latter part of his career.

But anyway, so my mom grew up in that kind of environment pumping gas for people when they stopped by, helping around the store. And when my grandfather was ill certainly she was doing a lot of the physical outdoor work, and so she grew up thinking she could do anything and she raised us to think that too. And my 14:00father's dad was in the public health service. He graduated from UVA way back I think in about the 1920s. He played baseball on the UVA team, and he served in the public health service as a doctor and so he moved around the country with his family, my dad's family, and his whole life was a life of service. So between my mom being very involved in the community and then I think my grandfather being in public service, there was this whole sense in my family of part of your life is a life of service. You know my family motto was "Leave the wood pile higher," and I know that might not sound sustainable anymore in this day and age, but you know what that means. You leave the world better than you found it.

And so I think that watching my family as a kid instilled in me this sense of 15:00service. And then there was this real I think pivotal moment in my life where I saw my mother stand up for someone who she didn't know personally at what could have been some societal, I guess I would call it, cost to herself. We were driving home one day, and so she was driving. My aunt was in the passenger seat and we kids were in the back. I can remember this vividly in my mind as a little kid. But she's driving along minding her own business watching the road and this car is coming in its lane to pass her. And right about the time that this car almost has passed her this motorcycle comes zipping out of this side road, a gravel road, fails to yield at the stop sign and plows into the side of the car that was about to pass my mother. So of course my mom has seen this whole thing. 16:00She immediately pulls off on the side of the road. And the man who was driving this car was an African American man, and this is in the 60s in rural Virginia in my home county. He didn't immediately slam on the brakes because he didn't know if the motorcycle was still kind of attached to his car. I think there was a lot of metally kind of yucky sounding, where this guy was still on the motorcycle, he didn't want to throw this guy under the car. And what had happened was the guy had fallen off immediately on impact, so he was lying on the ground. But the guy didn't know that at the time and so he braked really slowly, and so he stopped a little bit past the scene of the accident on purpose to be safe.

And this happened in the middle of this black community, and this is before cell phones or any of this kind of stuff. So somebody calls the rescue squad, somebody called the police. This state police officer came and he was this young 17:00white man who I think immediately thought he had sized up the situation, and my mother explained to him what she saw, what had happened. It was totally this young white man's fault for failing to yield at the stop sign, totally was not this black man's fault who just happened to be driving by at the wrong time. This police officer though wrote this man up for speeding, for reckless driving -- e wasn't doing any of this -- and leaving the scene of an accident. And this black man the whole time before the officer got there and during the time of this dialogue with this police officer spoke very calmly, not at all excited, 18:00just very matter of factly, voice steady, and the police officer pulls out these handcuffs and he says, "I'm going to have to arrest you and take you in."

The man held up his arm and he had a bandage on his, I can't remember which one, but one of his arms, and he said, "If you need to arrest me fine, but please don't put those handcuffs on me because it will cause me pain." And the officer went to put the handcuffs on, and I don't know whether the guy really meant to jerk or if it was kind of an involuntarily jerk, but he did, he jerked and so the police officer also arrested him for resisting arrest.

My mother was livid, you know, and of course my aunt is there seeing the whole thing too, and we kids don't count I guess in court or anything, but we saw it. So my mom said to this black guy, she said, "You let me know when your court date comes. I will be there." There were people that called up my mother after that saying, "What are you doing getting involved? Why are you getting involved?" Blah blah blah. My mom said, "You know I saw it. I know what 19:00happened." And so she went to court and she said XY and Z and fortunately she got all of the charges thrown out against him except for the resisting arrest, just because... But still she got most of the stuff. It just showed me that you see something you act on it. You just don't -- what's the phrase, silence is the voice of complicity. You just don't do that. And later on in life when I got into my 20s and 30s she would say to me, "Why are you so busy all the time running around with all these organizations?" I looked at her like well, you caused this. [Laughs]

Emily: That's amazing. That's a great story. Have you been involved with all of these organizations, or like how long?

Susan: When I was in college I was super active in many organizations. I was in Circle K, which is a service organization. I was president of several different 20:00honor organizations. I was the box office manager of my college theater. The first mathematician, the first non-theater box office manager I think in the history of the University, and so stuff like that. Like I said, I really thought we women had made it, so I really wasn't involved in political organizations working on such things, though I was certainly supportive of organizations like that. So it wasn't really until I got to Blacksburg that I saw that things were not as they seemed. But, I was also really busy as a graduate student, and I think I had that typical grad student guilt that if I wasn't studying or if I wasn't working on my homework I should be. And so I didn't really get involved in organizations to my memory until I had my job, until I was an instructor.


I would certainly go to events, but I didn't join a bunch of organizations or anything like that. So I think a catalyst for me here was I was reading what started in 1983 as the New River Free Press, which was our alternative news monthly that lasted almost 25 years here in town, which is a really long run for an alternative news monthly. But I was reading it probably in 1984, I would have to go back and look at records, but I was grading papers and I had taken a break and read this paper. I just had my ink pen in my hand, my writing pen from grading and I just started circling all these typos in it, and I yelled to my housemate Bruce, I said, "Bruce these people need a proofreader. I could do that." I said, "I think I'm going to write them." They had this little volunteer 22:00box you cut out and mail in, and he says, "Well wait a minute. Let me write a check and you can include my check in it." And so we sent it off and I tell you it was as soon as that check had arrived in the mail in that letter knock knock on our door, that this volunteer from Free Press came knocking on our door just saying, "Hey, would you like to come to a meeting?" and blah blah blah. So I think that was really the start of me being super active in Blacksburg because that paper covered all issues. We worked on the environment. We worked on women's rights. We worked on LGBTQ rights, world peace and justice issues, and the whole theme of the paper was this is what's going on locally. Let's relate these to what's going on regionally, statewide, nationally, internationally. And so it really tried to make the connection from small local issues to these broader far-reaching issues.

And so I became a volunteer of that, became its treasurer, and I think that's actually what helped me get elected, because I was known on campus, but I think 23:00it was through the Free Press that I was known in the broader community. And so besides having this committed corps of individuals helping me, I think people knew that I was Free Press staff or a Free Press volunteer. But that again helped me understand the interconnectedness of so many issues, you know, the intersectionality of so many issues, and I think that was a good thing. I didn't start our local NOW chapter here, but I certainly became active in it and was a part of it. It was our local NOW chapter that started in 1994 the Clothesline Project here. We didn't start it nationally, but we started our local Clothesline Project and I'm the keeper of that right now. This woman, Lisa Barroso, who still works at Virginia Tech, who is still in the community is the person who said, "Let's start a Clothesline Project in the community in Montgomery County."


And so she definitely was the shaker and the mover on that, and it was our NOW chapter and friends of members of NOW that got it started here. I'm not sure if you are familiar with the Clothesline Project, but it's a visual display to raise awareness about gender-based violence. And so people who are survivors of abuse create their own shirts, or a friend or family member of someone who has been murdered creates shirts in their honor. And those shirts tell a story of what happened to that particular individual. They are color-coded so if you look at a red or a pink shirt on the line, that's a shirt made by someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted. Tan or yellow are for those who have been non-sexually assaulted. Purple or lavender are for folks who have been harmed because of their sexual orientation. Green or blue are for those who are survivors of child incest or a childhood sexual assault. White for those who 25:00have been murdered, black for those handicapped because of violence. And so you can just kind of look down that line and see all the different kinds of violence that have happened to people who have created shirts in our community.

Unlike the AIDS quilt, which is a great project, these shirts aren't made all over the country and sent somewhere central. These shirts are made by people who at least when they made that shirt lived in our community. So Radford University students, Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff from both institutions, community members of the broader New River Valley. They are homegrown shirts.And so it shows folks, when you look at that line, then they understand that you can't pretend that violence only happens in this poor neighborhood or that urban setting, or only it's those kinds of religious people that do XY or Z. That violence really does cut across all socioeconomic institutions and structures 26:00and populations. So I think it really does bring home the fact that violence happens in our community.

Currently our Clothesline has about 600 shirts on it. It just grows a little bit every year. We have Clothesline Project workshops one week in the fall and one week in the spring at our Virginia Tech Women's Center, and the Center is just the perfect place for folks to come and make those shirts. They have a receptionist, so you can walk in, the receptionist can show you where the t-shirt creating room is. Montgomery County now supplies all the plain-colored t-shirts, the fabric paint, the fabric glue, hopefully everything you would want in creating a t-shirt for yourself. And it takes a lot of energy I think for a survivor or a friend or family member to make a shirt, because you have about, I 27:00don't know, a foot by a foot space on a shirt to tell what happened to you.

Sometimes people think that you have to be this great artist to make a shirt, but these are works of art. They are horrific works of art, but they are works of art without having to be an artist. Every single shirt tells its story in its own unique way, and when you look at that line it is very, very difficult to read I would say more than 20 shirts at a time, because the stories really are overwhelming. At least for me when I look at the line they make me really sad and then they make me really angry. And I think the third thing I hope that it does for most people as it does to me, that channels that anger into I've got to keep doing something to stop this. And so again, I think the line is a great way for folks to understand gender-based violence, not only in our community, but in 28:00the broader world.

And I also think that the whole process of creating a shirt, while certainly not what every single person is going to ever want to do, for those people who choose to make a shirt, creating a shirt does I believe help in their healing process. Because again, they have to think through that terrible event that happened to them in such a way as to make that reader understand what happened to them, and I think that's a really difficult process that a person goes through.

Emily: That's incredibly helpful.

Susan: So again, I by default I think am the keeper of that line. All the posts, about 21 of the wooden posts, are in my husband's and my garage. Fortunately we live near campus so it's not all that terrible to lug them around. All the t-shirts are in that line. And I have to tell you, when I set up the Clothesline 29:00Project workshop at the Women's Center, I have that same feeling I have when I enter a church sanctuary. I just feel like it's this place that is sacred.

Emily: Yeah, definitely. I can imagine. I've seen it on the Drillfield.

Susan: Yeah.

Emily: I think every time, like I'm not sure that I can walk by because I can see how emotionally draining that is, but I do think it's incredibly important to have that there, so I think about that. So that's obviously incredibly impactful and inspiring. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the United Feminist Movement and what that organization does?

Susan: Sure.

Emily: And what you find inspiring or impactful about that.

Susan: Gotcha. Well, I think one of the most wonderful things about being involved with the United Feminist Movement is watching young people.

Mostly women are members, but we have men, women, folks of all genders 30:00participate in United Feminist Movement. Watching them become empowered, become - I would call them stronger citizens of the world, learn organizing skills that they can take anywhere. So for example, their main project annually is the Take Back the Night rally and march which raises awareness about gender-based violence. And watching them learn skills to put that event on is wonderful, because I know that wherever they end up, whatever community they go in -- organizing info tables, organizing speaking engagements to talk about Take Back the Night, bringing that message to different student groups around campus, all those skills are things they can use in any other kind of organization and on 31:00any other kind of issue anywhere. And so you see them just learn how to handle tough issues, any kind of tough issues anywhere. And so watching them engage and like I said, be empowered and learn and just become better citizens is wonderful.

But this organization started way back when, in about 1991 I think, so early 90s as the Women's Undergraduate Network. It had that name then because there was an organization called the Women's Network here at Virginia Tech that was an organization for women faculty, staff, and graduate students. And so this woman, Judith Scott, who is still in our community, she lives in Blacksburg, she was working at Tech then. She was working out of the Dean of Students Office and her 32:00job, in part at least, was to raise awareness about -- we didn't call it this then, but gender-based violence on campus. This was before we ever had a Women's Center on campus, so the kind of programming that the Women's Center does now, that was what she did back then. And she was a part of the Women's Network and she thought that undergraduate women needed some such organization for their own interest. And so she with some students started the Women's Undergraduate Network back again in the early 90s, and their very first year of existence is when that student organization started our first local Take Back the Night. Again, not the first anywhere, but the first local Virginia Tech Take Back the Night and it has been ongoing annually ever since then.

And again, that was Judith making that happen. Unfortunately at that time, our 33:00then dean of students--I think Judith was ahead of her time. I think that, and again this is my impression, I cannot speak for that dean, but I think many campuses, ours included, at that time didn't really want to talk about gender-based violence and sexual assaults on campus, because they were scared that if the word got out about that kind of stuff here people wouldn't want their students to come. Whereas you know, the same kind of stuff happens on all campuses, and if all campuses are talking about it then no campus looks any worse than any other campus. But again, logic isn't necessarily what rules the day. So anyway, Judith was their faculty advisor and she asked me to help with those early meetings and early Take Back the Night and her contract wasn't 34:00renewed. I truly do not believe it was through anything she did wrong. I think it was because she was doing everything a little too right for the time here at Tech anyway. And she was immediately hired by Chapel Hill to do exactly the same work that she was doing here, so it shows that it wasn't that she was a bad employee.

Emily: Right.

Susan: So she worked down there for I don't know how many years but then retired and moved back here. Her husband is here, now retired history professor from Tech, and so her home was here, and so she really was one of these people who had to commute on weekends or he had to go down there. So it was a long-distance relationship which you can get tired of. But anyway, she started them and so when she left she said to me, "Susan, take care of my girls." Not only the girls, but, "Don't let Tech kill Take Back the Night." Because again, her 35:00impression from the dean of students' office at that time was she didn't like this raising awareness on campus, and so I have done my best to honor what Judith asked me over the years.

After a while, after about a decade the students thought that the Women's Undergraduate Network just sounded boring and stuffy, and it does. They thought we just need something a little more pizazzy and more exciting. One of them had seen this word Womanspace somewhere and liked it. They liked the idea. And again, it wasn't to be exclusionary or to exclude men or anybody else, but I think at that time they really were trying to create a safe place, still create a safe place for people -- and again, we would say now who identified as women, 36:00though we didn't use that kind of language then. We didn't know that language, to feel safe and comfortable and get to know each other and to organize.

And so they were for several years Womanspace: The Women's Undergraduate Network, because they didn't want to lose their history on who they were on campus either. And so then another decade goes by and the students, and rightly so, felt like Womanspace sounded exclusionary. I think they no longer felt like just women needed a safe place. We had that. They wanted to make sure that men knew that they were welcome. That trans people knew that they were welcome. And so for a year or two while they were trying to figure out what should our name be, they called themselves Womanspace +, trying to again say we're not just for women, we're for everybody. But again, that wasn't enough and so they decided not this past spring, but let me think, about a year to two years ago they 37:00finally decided to be United Feminist Movement. And so for that first year in letters we would send out to people we would say United Feminist Movement, formerly Womanspace +. Again trying to make sure people knew what organization. It wasn't a new organization, it was still the same group.

And so in our letters of invitation to Virginia Tech administrators this year, this is the last time I think we will have said United Feminist Movement, formerly Womanspace +. But to all the student organizations they just put in the letters this year United Feminist Movement invites you. So they are transitioning into being full-on United Feminist Movement.

But anyway, so they are the same group and watching them evolve over time as a body of students has been interesting too. When they first started they embraced 38:00the word feminist. It was a powerful, strong word and they each said that's who I am. Besides whatever else I am I am a feminist. And then they reached a point about halfway through where they were scared of that word. They were feminists. I mean they would tell you that all the things that you would think of in a feminist definition they absolutely were, but they didn't want to be labeled. There was that whole Nazi feminist kind of time period, the Rush Limbaugh. And I'm happy to share with you that in this day and age they claim that word again -- United Feminist Movement. They embrace that word once again and that makes me absolutely delighted.

Emily: So did you face any of the same kind of pushback that Judith faced?

Susan: Not that I ever felt I guess I would say, or not that I was ever aware of.

I would say other issues maybe. So for example, this has been a long long time 39:00ago, we used to meet, well we still get annual evaluations from our department head. And this is many department heads ago. I went in to get my annual evaluation and somebody had mentioned to me, a faculty member mentioned to me that something might be up with me. I had good teaching evaluations. I didn't know of anybody complaining about me for anything. So anyway, I walked into his office and he said, "Here's your scores. Everything looks good, Susan, great." I said, "Well, is there anything you want to share with me?" He was like, "No, no. Everything's fine." I said, "Well I just want to know if anything was amiss. I would like to fix it, or think about fixing it." And so he says, "Well, it's 40:00your door." I said, "My door?" I wasn't sure I had heard him, and I said, "Well, if people have trouble walking through my door that's an issue. I will look at it and I will think about it. Thank you. Thank you for letting me know."

So I went back and looked at my door. I think that sign, my choice sign was on at the time. I had that sign that's still on it, stop the violence sign, celebrate diversity. You know, I just thought this is ridiculous. But I think the poster, and I will never know, I won't know, but it was during the whole push not to get involved in the Iraq War, and I had like a flier for a vigil, some kind of protest about the war on my door and I truly believe it was probably that, because I had had all that other stuff on my door for you know, a while. That was the only thing that I could look at and say that's kind of new. 41:00But it made me mad, not at my chair. I mean he was good that he shared that you know, but I started expanding into the wall. I'm not kidding you, for about five years I saved every poster that I had on my door and I had on my wall. Just in case anybody asked this is what was there.

And so one time I had somebody slide under my door a little nasty flier about being a liberal. Too bad. [Laughs] Not much. Not that I ever felt like I've got to shut my mouth. Certainly my department head at the time I shared the flier that got under my door, and he had no tolerance for that flier. And like I said, my department head that told me about my wall, he was not going to say anything to me except I pushed him into it...


So it wasn't something that he felt like was wrong, but again, I think he understood that I wanted to know what people were saying, or at least what one person was saying.

Emily: That's great.

Susan: I should tell you one other thing. This is not a threat, but I had two wonderful things happen to me because of LGBTQ rights. Back in the 90s it was I think a little harder for people to be allies. Maybe there is a little scarier time to be allies. But anyway, somehow I got my picture in the [CT] taken. I think a bunch of us were going up to a DC rally and I had on a pink triangle for LGBTQ rights. It was about the time that I got married, and one of my students said to me in the fall, "You got married." [Laughs] I was like, "Yeah." I was 43:00thinking why would this person think I wouldn't get married? And I kept thinking and thinking and I thought it was just an odd statement you know, because a lot of people do get married, you know. The only thing I could think was that I had a picture with this button. And so again, the assumptions that people make.

And another wonderful thing happened to me. I was at the Lyric Theater and we had some info table out or something and this great Womanspace student and I were standing at the info table and one of the math professors knew that I was married to Kim, but had never met Kim. And so he came up to me and he said, "Is this Kim?" And this woman was so hot, so incredibly good looking and vivacious, 44:00and I looked at her and I thought if he thinks I could land this hot babe this is great, you know. And I said, "No, no, this is one of my students." [Chuckles] But I was just so flattered that he thought that I was that cool that I could attract this woman, you know.

Emily: That's fantastic. So you've been here for a while. I'm just wondering if you've seen any changes here at Virginia Tech that are encouraging to you or what other changes would you like to see moving forward? We're in such a moment right now, so what are you seeing? Especially with like the MeToo movement and things like that?

Susan: I feel safer maybe for people to out themselves now. It's still not necessarily safe in every situation, but for people to come out in all kinds of ways, people to come out with their assault, it takes a very brave person to do that.


I think to come out and say I might have a mental illness. That's still incredibly difficult for people to say. For an LGBTQ person to come out to friends or family I think is still tough for folks, so we're not there yet. We're not in a society where I think people can treat their sexuality or their gender comfortably. We're not in a society where people can treat a mental illness the same as a physical illness. So we have a long way to go as a society, but we're better off, you know. We certainly are better off.

I can remember when I was a young instructor that it was, and again, I'm embarrassed to say this, and this was way before my current chair's time, this was a long time ago, but that it was okay to tell sexist jokes at a retirement party. That would not be tolerated in this day and age. And that sounds like a 46:00really small thing, but it's big, you know. It just shows you the norms in a community, you know. I'm in a department that embraces this career day for sixth graders that I was telling you about. Back in the 80s I don't think anybody was even dreaming about that. Instructors at that time back in the 80s tended to be the wives of faculty members, and so they were the extra income. And I don't think that we as instructors were thought of as colleagues then.

And it really wasn't until we changed the rules in our department, and I have to give a huge shout-out to Pat Hyer who has retired, but Pat lifted up instructors, not quite single-handedly, but in large part all across the 47:00University. And so she made it happen so that departments could treat instructors better. Instructors when I first started could only work full-time for it was either five or six years, and then you either had to go part-time or you couldn't work. A couple of years I was five-sixth position, and we have five-hour calculus, so I taught two five-hour calculus courses. So you had almost the whole workload of a full-time instructor, but no medical or retirement benefits. And so again, she did a tremendous amount of work making that happen, and when we were allowed to go full-time it also changed the structure in at least my department, and so we were put on committees for the first time, along with tenure track folks. And it was that working together I believe that again helped us in our status of being real faculty.


Because the professors could see that we were good at organizing or we had good ideas, and that did help tremendously. And then again Pat, once again later helped create the tiered instructor system, so now we have instructors, advanced instructors, and senior instructors. And again, that has helped us with job security, you know, because again, we used to be hired year to year. Do you really want to try to buy a house if you're not sure you're going to have a job next year? Things like that she really, really helped us out hugely.

Emily: We're speaking to Pat actually.

Susan: Oh excellent. She definitely did a lot for women in general here, but definitely for instructors. I'll give you another sign of the times. And again, I can't tell you what decade this story was, but it was probably my guess is the 49:00late 80s. We had a math faculty meeting, and I cannot remember what the issue was, but there was some issue we were all discussing. One of my fellow instructors, Terri Borden, a woman, very articulately and fairly concisely described what she saw as the solution. And all the instructors in the room kind of nodded their heads, looked at her, "Hmm yeah, that makes good sense." We're all thinking to ourselves she can see, that's our facial expression, that's our body language. None of the professors seemed to say anything or acknowledge anything. A few minutes later in that same discussion: What should we do here? And a male professor said exactly the same thing only not as well, and the conversation amongst the men were, "Great idea, so and so." And we all looked around at each other. We knew what we had just heard, but the men didn't hear 50:00it. They really didn't hear it. And again, at a faculty meeting now I just don't think that would happen. I think we're past that. So we have had great change, but we again still have a long way to go on most issues.

Emily: So, more generally do you have a favorite memory from Virginia Tech?

Susan: Oh that's tough. I would say I have a favorite maybe set of memories at Tech. And again I think it shows the power of the United Feminist Movement students. When one of our students, and she would not mind me sharing her story with you, one of our students, Mary, was raped by a fraternity member her first 51:00semester here, early on in her first semester here at Virginia Tech.

It severely caused her pain, severely traumatized her. And her best friend Megan read Mary's story at Take Back the Night that year. The following year Mary I think had healed enough that she wanted to tell her own story at Take Back the Night, and she did, and she became active in what was then called Womanspace. She became one of our student leaders, and the following year was the MC at Take Back the Night and became very active in the campus in working on stopping, at 52:00least lessening, gender-based violence. And so she went from not being able to talk about her story except to her best friend, to someone who could share her story publicly to actually working on gender-based violence herself. And she ended up out of college going into the Peace Corps. She's not in the Peace Corps anymore, but she's still doing really wonderful things with her life. So watching people heal and become empowered, hopefully not have to heal, but to become empowered I think has been wonderful for me.

Emily: What inspires you about Virginia Tech?

Susan: I would say it's not the institution, but it's the people, and I would 53:00say it's not necessarily Virginia Tech's people, but the people that live in this community. We are fortunate, and I will put my Town Council hat on a little bit, because through Town Council I see not only a Virginia Tech faculty, staff and students' unit, but I see extended community members. We live in a community that pays attention. We live in a community where on the whole our citizens read. They figure things out for themselves. They have opinions and they are willing to share their opinions. I think our community is as good as it is because it's a community of individuals who are willing to participate and to speak up and to speak out. Not every community is like that, and they elect officials who want to help them keep doing that.


And then our staff of our town are also like that. For example, our police chief has said many times that he believes in community policing. He doesn't believe in a police force that terrifies its citizenry. He wants a police force that helps the citizens of our community and the residents of our community. An example of that is we've been working on and are going to vote this month on updating our ordinances on vigils, protests to try to make them one, safer for the community, but not to in any way diminish First Amendment rights. So, after Charlottesville our police and our town staff and our town attorney actively began working on okay, how can we make our community safer and better. Because we all know in our community our people speak out and they need safe places to 55:00be able to do that.

Emily: Wonderful. All right. Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you or that you would like to add to be included?

Susan: Not that I can think of.