Editor’s note: Josh Kim is the co-opinion editor on The Collegian staff. Dean Kerry Fankhauser, Dean Dan Fabian, Lauren Ramos, the WC orientation chair, and Dylan Heaney, the RC orientation chair, did not reply to email requests for interviews.
This year’s orientation adviser team lacked racial diversity, and adequate discussion of diversity, despite the fact that the University of Richmond had just welcomed the most diverse class in its history.
According to a recent public relations post, 38 percent of incoming students in UR’s class of 2021 self-identify as students of color or non-white international students. For the ninth consecutive year, more than 20 percent of students in the incoming class identify as domestic students of color.
But, underneath this increasing racial diversity on campus lies tension between ideas on how racism, white supremacy and diversity should be addressed to the incoming students, if at all, according to multiple students involved with orientation.
Josh Kim, RC’19, a Multicultural Pre-Orientation special, said a debate arose during a diversity training for orientation advisers (OAs) on how the OAs should address their first-year orientees about the Aug. 12 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left 19 people injured and one woman dead.
Kim said the discussion at the training became tense after he said OA’s should talk about the recent events in Charlottesville with their orientation groups and openly condemn white supremacy and racism. Some of the general orientation chair members disagreed with this statement, Kim said.
“They said if there were students who held similar beliefs to those who protested at Charlottesville, this would be suppressing their opinion,” Kim said. “To me, white supremacy and racism isn’t an opinion. It’s violence.”
Kim said the most heated part of the discussion happened when he said the anti-Semitic ideologies exhibited in Charlottesville were a racial issue. He said after he made this comment, some of the OAs were so upset that they yelled at him, and one left the training. Kim said that at this point, he felt that the room was filled with animosity directed toward him.
“I went back to my room that night and I had to have two friends with me because I was scared for my own safety,” he said.
Another Multicultural Pre-Orientation special, who The Collegian has allowed to remain anonymous, said that they too were concerned for Kim’s safety after he made this comment. They also said they felt as if the discussion failed to capture the complexity of dealing with race and diversity.
“I could have answered those questions in middle school,” the special said. “I don’t understand why in 2017, we can’t condemn white supremacy.”
The special added that they felt some of the general OAs were very understanding during the discussion, and that they were particularly thankful for Dean Fankhauser, who reassured the group that the university condemns white supremacy and racism.
In an Aug. 14 email sent to members of the university community by President Crutcher, Crutcher addressed the events that took place in Charlottesville, but did not reference the university’s non-discrimination policy, or explicitly state whether the university has a policy on condemning white supremacy and racism.
“We write to express our deepest sympathy to our neighbors in Charlottesville, including our colleagues at the University of Virginia, over the loss of life and injuries that resulted from senseless acts of violence and bigotry this weekend, and a related helicopter accident,” Crutcher wrote in the emailed letter. “We offer our condolences to all those who were affected.”
Nicole Maurantonio, a professor of rhetoric and communication studies and the coordinator for the University of Richmond’s Race and Racism Project, told The Collegian in an email interview that she believed President Crutcher’s email statement was lacking an important aspect by not naming white supremacy and racism specifically.
“There is a power in identifying the causes of the violence that took place in Charlottesville: white supremacy, racism and other expressions of hatred,” Maurantonio wrote in the email.
According to a list of this year’s orientation team that was obtained by The Collegian, the racial diversity in the OA team was not reflective of the diversity in this incoming class of students. Approximately 13 percent of the female OAs and 8 percent of the male OAs were students of color, compared to 38 percent of the incoming class identifying as students of color or non-white international students.
The Pre-Orientation special who asked not to be identified by The Collegian said that they were an OA last year but chose not to apply again this year, because of the history of the OA team not being racially diverse.
“Last year I was not comfortable with the experience,” the special said. “I think I could have counted the number of general OAs of color on one hand.”
India Henderson, WC’21, said that she enjoyed her orientation experience this year and thought that her OAs were very nice, but she wished that more students of color would have been a part of the OA team to make it more diverse.
“I hope that students recognize that this is a problem and encourage their friends to apply,” she said.
Henderson added that although she enjoyed the Cultural Collisions presentation that was presented to first-year students during orientation, she wished that people would have taken the conversation on race and diversity more seriously. She said the speaker used jokes and humor to try to convey his message.
“It’s funny until the situation happens to you,” Henderson said. “Then it’s not funny anymore.”
Marjorie García Sánchez, WC’21, also expressed her concerns with the presentation not being balanced between discussing race and diversity seriously and with humor.
“We were being portrayed a certain way, and I just want you to know that it’s a joke,” she said.
García Sánchez added that making this presentation so comedic was an issue because some first-year students may not have understood why certain behaviors were racist or discriminatory. She also said the breakout discussion that followed the panel should have been mandatory, and not optional for the first-year students to attend.
“The people who needed to be there weren’t even there, and I think that’s a problem,” she said.
But, despite some of the issues with orientation, García Sánchez still has positive expectations for her next four years at UR.
“On behalf of the first-year students of color, we’re here, and we want to be here, and all we ask is that others want us to be here too,” she said.
Contact news writer Bri Park at firstname.lastname@example.org.