This morning, I was looking at my Statcounter hits, and I noticed that I got one from Blackboard, educational software that is frequently used at colleges and universities in the United States. The person who hit my old blog was evidently at Drexel University. He or she read a post I wrote about a book I read, written by a college classmate who is now in prison. As I was revisiting that post this morning, I felt a little flabbergasted by how much technology has changed since my undergraduate days. When I was in college in the 1990s, we didn’t have Blackboard. In fact, we barely had the Internet back then. By the time I was in graduate school from 1999-2002, Blackboard was commonly used around the country.
Several years ago, on my old blog, I wrote a post called Prison. It was inspired by a thread I had read on RfM. Someone had posted that a family member was about to go to prison and they wanted information about what it would be like. I remembered that a few years prior, I had read a number of books about the prison experience. One of the books I read and reviewed was entitled A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women (2010). Although I didn’t realize it the first time I read that book, back in 2010, I actually knew the author, Erin McCay George. We went to college together in Farmville, Virginia. As I read Erin’s book the first time, I kept marveling at how much we had in common, right down to having attended Longwood University (then known as Longwood College) at the same time.
When I revisited Erin’s book in 2013, it suddenly dawned on me who she was. Longwood was a very small, close-knit school in the 1990s. It’s grown a bit since I was a student, but it’s still a very friendly campus. I have many friends from my college days, which as of this year are 25 years in the past. I even still speak to former professors, and they actually remember me! Bill marvels about that, since he went to much larger American University, where he was just one of thousands of students.
Because the campus was so close-knit, it was easy to get to know “of” people. I wasn’t buddies with Erin George, but I definitely knew who she was. She was friendly with people I knew better, and in fact, had been a very controversial editor of our school newspaper. One of my friends worked with the Student Government Association and knew Erin because she was accused of embezzling money that was intended for the newspaper. Erin evidently left the country while the case was being investigated and never graduated from Longwood.
So, the next post I composed after “Prison” was called “I actually DO know Erin McCay George.” That post is now six years old, but it’s attracted a lot of attention that continues today. I got comments from several people who also know Erin, including one from one of her children, who was sent to England to live after her mother was sent to prison for 603 years for murdering her husband over insurance money. I’ve also gotten comments from college students whose professors are using Erin’s book in their criminal justice classes, as well as people who knew her at Longwood, or knew her husband’s family in England.
As I was rereading that post this morning, it occurred to me how pieces of a story can come together. It’s really fascinating. For much of my life, I didn’t have access to the Internet. Now that it’s as ubiquitous as indoor plumbing, I can communicate with people from all over the world and get more of a story than I would have otherwise had. But I also have the benefit of hindsight, and this morning, I’m remember the controversy that made Erin a campus name back in 1992.
It was all over a newspaper article that appeared on the front page of The Rotunda in the fall of ’92. Erin had penned an expose over the disparities in faculty salaries, and went as far as to publish them in the newspaper. Thinking about that situation now, it seems crazy that people would have gotten into such a tizzy over the salary information, especially since Erin George is currently doing 603 years for murder in a big death penalty state. But I do remember people were very upset about it and Erin came under fire for printing the information for everyone to see. Actually, looking at the numbers, I’m a bit horrified by how low the salaries were. I know it was 1992, but jeez, most of the profs weren’t making a lot of money!
Then, I remembered there was a controversy about condoms in the newspaper. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this accurately, and as of right now, I’m looking to see if I can find the actual issue, but I seem to remember that Erin was responsible for condoms being distributed within the newspaper. I could be wrong, though. I’ll keep looking to see if I can find the proof. ETA: I’m right. In the screenshot, you can read Julie Wiley’s comments about the infamous SEX issue of the paper. I don’t think I got an issue of that paper myself, even though they were freely distributed around campus. They went fast because college students are always keen to get things for free… condoms were probably especially valuable.
What I did find while searching the archives is a supportive letter to the editor written by a math professor from back in the day. Behold:
In searching the archives, I’m not finding the unsigned sheet Dr. Webber mentions. I suspect that some people in the know decided to put them in the paper after they had already been printed. The above letter would have been printed in the fall of 1993, but Erin was married by March 1994. My SGA friend told me that Erin abruptly left the country while she was being investigated for allegedly embezzling funds intended for the newspaper. Erin was also mentioned in The Virginian, Longwood’s yearbook, for making comments about how the yearbook was funded:
I went looking for the infamous SEX issue, but I can’t find it posted anywhere. However, I did find the article about the SGA and its funding of the yearbook. Interestingly enough, the piece appears to be more of an editorial than a news article, yet it appears on the front page.
And the article got a lot of responses from the community…
Anyway… it’s been interesting to take this walk down memory lane. It doesn’t seem like I graduated from college 25 years ago, but it’s pretty funny to read some of the back issues of The Rotunda during the Erin McCay years. It’s amazing what you can find when you look in the past. While I’m sure none of us ever thought the controversial newspaper reporter would one day wind up in prison and write a book that gets used in college courses, I think some of what was written in our college paper sort of foreshadows the fact that Ms. George was destined to find trouble. Farmville, Virginia is a pleasant, quiet, college town, but it’s had its share of craziness. On the other hand, rock star Jason Mraz was once a Longwood student, too.
Edited to add: I found this clipping from 1992 about the infamous Sex issue of the Rotunda…
“College Newspaper Comes With Condoms” United Press International (09/25/92)
Farmville, Va.–Longwood College’s student newspaper this week was published with a condom taped inside each copy. Erin McCay, editor-in-chief of the Rotunda, said, “The purpose of this issue was to raise awareness.” She added that she was “appalled by the Victorian attitude toward sex, and the grim repercussions that that attitude can have.” The newspaper was headlined, “SEX!! SEX!! SEX!! IN THE NINETIES.” The condoms were stuck on page eight in a box headed, “Just Use It.” Dean of students Tim Pierson said the issue was “inappropriate.” Advertising revenue paid for the condoms, according to McCay, who was summoned to a meeting Friday with Phyllis Mable, vice president for student affairs. The special edition entailed stories and commentary about date rape, AIDS on college campuses, and attitudes about sex as well as unrelated articles. A total of 1,200 copies of the Rotunda were distributed around campus on Monday night and were gone by early Tuesday.