The Student News Site of Christopher Newport University

The Captain's Log

The Captain's Log

The Student News Site of Christopher Newport University

The Captain's Log

The Captain's Log

How CNU’s past will inform its future

“We need to know our history, so we don’t repeat it”
President William Kelly speaking at a Shoe Lane discussion forum, hosted at CNU in November of 2023, photo courtesy of Sydney Smith, OCPR at CNU

After the publication of two news articles detailing Christopher Newport University’s long history of racial disparity, university president, William Kelly, promises transparency and a stronger culture of inclusion moving forward.


The first article, published in September of 2023 by ProPublica in partnership with the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism, describes how Newport News government officials in the 1960s seized a local black community on Shoe Lane in order to build the public two-year college that is now known as CNU. Released in December, the second article explores how the number of black students and faculty at CNU continued to decrease under former President Paul Trible’s leadership and how the outward expansion of the university during his nearly 26 years in office, displaced black residents in the surrounding community. 


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Today, Kelly, who began his tenure as CNU’s newest president in July of last year, is acknowledging that history. 


“The best way to approach these things [is] to embrace them, to be transparent about it, to be honest about it and not try to go and say we’re going to solve the world,” Kelly told The Captain’s Log in a recent interview. “But let’s acknowledge the story and acknowledge the fact that we have work to do.”


Part of this “work” is ensuring that students are educated and informed about the university’s history.


For the first time, CNU’s orientation program for the incoming class of 2028 will include a curriculum about the university’s history and its role in the Shoe Lane community. 


“We’re going to be intentional about talking about Shoe Lane and understanding the land that we’re on,” said Kelly, who noted that CNU is situated just miles away from where the first enslaved peoples were brought to the U.S.


Welcome Week, Setting Sail and Changing Tides summer orientation programs will incorporate education reflecting the open dialogue that Kelly hopes to foster. 


He also wants to build a stronger connection with the residents that still live on Shoe Lane; his goal is to eventually have the opportunity to sit-down and talk with them.


Even on his Wednesday Walks – weekly morning strolls around campus that are open to the whole community – Kelly said that he makes a point of “weaving in” the university’s historical context as he learns more about it. 


Looking at the university’s future, Kelly discussed his focus on increasing inclusivity, calling the most recent campus initiative, CNU Pride Week, “a step in that direction.” 


“We have to open our doors to all students who want to come to this university,” said Kelly. “They need to see themselves here, they need to feel like they belong here and they need to feel like they’re welcomed here.”


Kelly also talked about CNU becoming more accessible to the surrounding area, including plans to collaborate with local community colleges and HBCUs. 


“Those are the relationships that you have, that start to break down barriers, start to broaden perspectives and start to make us a much more inclusive community,” said Kelly. “We’re all responsible for being good citizens and I want to exemplify that as much as I can from my position”

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Evelyn Davidson, Editor in Chief
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