Parents Weekend: All work, no play?

Spencer Payne

Parents and Family Weekend has been a Washington and Lee tradition for over 60 years, but the event is far from perfect.

Organizers strive to give parents the opportunity to meet with members of the faculty, to review campus life, and to participate in social events—hoping to offer a glimpse of the W&L experience. President Ruscio offers a report to parents, Financial Aid Officers are on-call, the squash courts are open for play and seemingly every academic department has an open house. Red carpet is everywhere.

But amid the tables of light refreshments and small cookies, something is not quite right. It may not be obvious at first glance, but a closer look reveals a troubling reality.

Students are absent.

They are in meetings, studying, or are fulfilling extracurricular obligations. They are not spending as much time with their families because they simply cannot. For this reason, the Parents and Family Weekend model needs to change. Offering scores of family events is simply not an effective way of portraying the W&L community if students are too busy to attend.

Perhaps the due dates of exams and papers simply have an uncanny ability of falling on the Friday and Saturday of Parents and Family Weekend, or perhaps extracurricular obligations simply cannot be rescheduled. But regardless, the University fails to create an environment conducive for student participation. And that needs to change.

The fix is simple: treat Parents and Family Weekend with more reverence. It is the one weekend of the year when hundreds—if not thousands—of parents, grandparents, and relatives, travel to W&L to see Lexington and live the W&L experience. They want to see Washington Hall and Lee Chapel. They want to meet administrators and faculty. They want to walk in town and sample the local fare. But perhaps most importantly, they want to do all these things as a family.

So next year, let us strive to give more attention to those who have always offered support and encouragement. For if we, as a community, truly believe that family comes first, then I think the focus of Parents and Family Weekend must shift to reflect this idea more closely.