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Profile: More Than Just Black and White

Will Vaughan '15Black and white. Rich and poor. College-bound and not.

Will Vaughan '15 remembers seeing and feeling those differences acutely in his high school's college counseling office.

"There was a college track and a non-college track, which they also referred to as ‘optional' and ‘traditional,'" said Vaughan. "It's unjust. It's highly segregated racially, and it sets people up for success or failure in a current system that values individuality over community."

Vaughan's own track took him to Davidson-where he found just one track with a common goal: academic success.

"At Davidson, people expect to learn," he said.

Still, Vaughan couldn't stop thinking about demographic divisions and social justice. And even on the Davidson campus, the diversity of the student body seemed to reflect divisions from the world at large.

Vaughan recalled of his transition into his first year of college. "I never thought I was a part of the white elite culture but I am, by virtue of the many privileges that I fail to even recognize every day."

As a Kuykendall Scholar, Patterson Court leader and senior sociology major, Vaughan takes a very deliberate approach to studying how demographics of all kinds play into success or failure, justice or injustice.

"As a sociology major at Davidson, I've really been able to explore a passion that had never really crystallized, around race and race relations and social justice," he said. "I'm a sociology major because I have a passion for human relations."

As the white president of the Black Student Coalition, a Patterson Court organization, Vaughan has a bird's-eye view of important personal conversations, political discussions and academic debates-both those occurring "up the hill" in the classrooms of Chambers Building and "down the hill" at social functions on Patterson Court. He often finds himself thinking in terms of "connecting two conversations."

Progress at the task of joining disparate campus conversations can sometimes be halting or uneven, and sometimes remarkable.

"You hear people say [social] integration, integration, integration, but things sometimes stay segregated," he said. "At the vigil we organized after Ferguson, only about 40 percent of the participants were white."

In light of the racially-charged events that unfolded on the national stage in late 2014, Vaughan remains upbeat and clear-eyed for 2015, focused and busy with a wide variety of campus activities, which include social justice events, taboo discussions and attempts to build bridges across racial divides. In addition to his leadership of BSC, he is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, a performer in Shades of Brown step group, a club soccer player and a member of student group Q&A, Queers and Allies.

In some ways, Davidson feels a long way from Memphis, Tenn., where Vaughan grew up a "P.K." (preacher's kid) in a demographically diverse part of town. One of his Davidson application essays was about a man with schizophrenia his father, a Methodist minister, befriended during Vaughan's childhood.

"This man became a key point in childhood," Vaughan said, "and I wrote about how incredibly generous and caring Charlie was despite the fact that we, as society, continually shove him down."

Davidson felt like a culture shock, at first, with its psychological personality-type matching of roommates and freshman halls, its all-you-can eat dining hall.

Over time, Vaughan found a characterization of Davidson that works for him: "elite without being elitist."

"Davidson is this enigma," he said, with clear affection and also with a bit of edge. "There was something about Davidson that was so different from a lot of the more global problems I was seeing. But Davidson is not exempt. And if we are not addressing those issues, then what are we doing?"