The Cross at Wren Chapel

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?

Case Excerpt

The full case is comprised of an (A) Case, a (B) Case, and additional content.

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.

Discussion Questions

1. What guidance would you offer to Gene Nichol about William & Mary’s team nickname, “The Tribe”? How might this issue—and his response to it—inform his approach to the cross in Wren Chapel?

2. Is Gene Nichol right to be concerned about the display of a cross in a chapel that is also used for secular events at a public building? Why or why not?

3. As Nichol considers how to respond, what options might he have? In the college context, who are his stakeholders? What should he do first? What should he try to avoid?


Additional Content

President Nichol's Email