The Collegian
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Studying abroad in Richmond

People come from all over the world to get caught in the web. We come from vastly different lives to the manicured campus and stone buildings where we will temporarily call home. I have heard countless times "how diverse and accomplished this freshman class is!" and I have been impressed with the new recruits. But at the same time, I wonder how this diversity could make it more difficult to unify under the University of Richmond ideal.

The truth is, most of us didn't come from Richmond and weren't actually "Spider-born and Spider-bred" as the fight song goes. Many students (me included) hadn't even heard of the University of Richmond before senior year of high school. It's not a big problem, but if the school plans on getting more and more diverse each year, they should start to think about how they can work to bring everyone together because ... c'mon guys, it just ain't working.

As a former freshman and OA, I've seen orientation from both sides and have come to one conclusion about this school's initial conditioning: It's boring. I even found myself apologizing to my orientees for many of the speeches that coincidentally lasted till 10 p.m. Sure there are two fun events (and they really are fun) but otherwise, orientation consists of speeches and workshops as well as necessary drudgery regarding campus safety and student resources. Almost all of the speeches point to the ways in which we are different (i.e. one's race, class or gender), but rarely do we hear that: "Oh, and by the way, we're all going to be together for the next four years and should start to find some things we have in common." Though this year orientation actually included the Alma Mater, it was at the very last activity and only after what seemed like hours of more speeches and videos. This sort of approach to orientation doesn't give disoriented students anything to grab onto in the ways of commonality and community.

Because I knew I was going to write about the overall personality of the school, I decided to seek out some wise perspective. Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking with a man named Bill Welstead who graduated from the University of Richmond in 1957. I couldn't help but get excited hearing stories about this place from more than 50 years ago and consider the legacy of that time period as it still affects us today. This was the year the Frat houses were purchased by the school and became lodges. This was also during the period that freshmen guys lived in big green army barracks because there weren't enough dorm rooms. Guys and girls were obviously separated in living and dining and only together for a handful of campus-wide events. During Welstead's senior year, students enjoyed the first on campus dance in the Millhiser Gymnasium ... likely not as sloppy as the recent senior toga social but probably still fun in a different way. This was a time of Westhampton College beauty contests and when big tobacco companies purchased almost all of the advertising in The Collegian.

Mr. Welstead told me many stories that I will never forget (and may cite in the future), but one in particular has me interested in the way our school used to operate. He told me that freshmen guys were expected to be friendly to upperclassmen and were assimilated into the personality of the school from the very beginning of their experience.

Each freshman guy actually wore a beanie on his head for the first few weeks of the year so that they would be easily identifiable. When an upperclassmen guy saw one of these beanies he would ask, "How's the cow?" The younger student would have to reply: "Sir, she walks; she talks; she's full of chalk and the lacteal fluid extracted from the bovine of the species is highly prolific to the nth degree." I couldn't believe that I was sitting at a table listening to a man recite this auditory response that he and every other freshmen guy had to commit to memory at the beginning of their school experience in 1953.

Today, someone would cry foul and call that hazing or find some offensive meaning behind the phrase. Others would think that first-years ought to be built up rather than torn down, but I say, "Bring back the beanie." Bring back the meaningless idiosyncrasies that once made this place come together. This sort of tradition can't be proven valuable or seen to make our college more legitimate to the rest of the country, but there is much to be said for the absurd. There is nothing shameful about an irrational love for this place. After all, we have the beloved pines of continuity ... who else can say the same?

Contact staff writer Michael Rogers at

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