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NEIGHBORS--A BUMPY EVOLUTION
William Crawley's town & gown column (UMW): Town-Gown Relations: A Bumpy Evolution

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Date published: 11/7/2010

THE RECENT controversy over the outdoor "music" performance by Wale during UMW's homecoming celebration illustrated once again the often tenuous, sometimes contentious nature of the relationship between the university and its Fredericksburg neighbors. Not unlike the situation in most college communities, the local town-gown relationship has been characterized historically by periods of concord interspersed with eruptions of conflict.

From the school's founding in 1908, the Fredericksburg citizenry was generally supportive of the "college on the hill" and indeed proud to be home to one of the commonwealth's most respected institutions of higher learning for women. But there was scant interaction on a regular basis between students and townsfolk. Ensconced within a (literally) gated campus, carefully shepherded by an administration that rigorously enforced the prevailing dictates of in loco parentis, students mingled with the local populace mainly when they ventured downtown to shop or go to movies or attend church--and then under strict guidelines.

Generally, locals found little to condemn, and much to admire, at the college in the early years: May Day celebrations provided a frilly and fanciful diversion each spring; through the 1940s into the mid-'50s, two unique elements--the all-girl band and the cavalry--delighted the local community; periodic concerts and drama productions attracted an appreciative public.

But for the first half-century of the school's existence, there was, on a day-to-day basis, little town-gown involvement. The college was in the city but not of it, resulting in a relationship that was not so much a bad one as a barren one.

That situation began to change, for both better and worse, in the late '60s, especially in terms of student activities. Bob Dylan was right: The times, they were a-changin'--and seemingly with a vengeance at Mary Washington. In truth, the college merely reflected the social and cultural ferment occurring across the country, but to local observers it may have appeared more jarring, given the sudden juxtaposition with the theretofore decorous behavior of the "girls."


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NEIGHBORS--A BUMPY EVOLUTION

William Crawley is distinguished professor emeritus of history at UMW, and author of "The University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008."