When Gene Nichol, president of the College of William & Mary, removes a cross from the historic chapel it triggers a contentious debate: how to honor tradition and create an inclusive campus?
Shortly after Gene R. Nichol became President of the College of William & Mary in July 2005, he was called upon to address issues of diversity at the historic Virginia college. Some considered the William & Mary (W&M) team nickname, “The Tribe,” to be offensive; others believed it honored the college’s historical ties to Native Americans and affirmed a sense of community. As Nichol responded to this early challenge, he would also take on another issue that would test the young college president: a dispute over the display of a cross at Wren Chapel.
At the center of what would become a firestorm of controversy was a bronze-plated cross, less than two feet in size. Early on, Nichol questioned the display of a Christian cross in a building also used for secular events at a public university. He recognized that Wren Chapel, like the college itself, was originally established for Christian purposes; however, it now served a religiously diverse community. Nichol wanted the campus to be a place where every student felt welcome. How he would accomplish this goal would prove to be a far more complex – and contentious – question.