The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

The writing on the wall

Westhampton College '09

The University of Richmond is a joke. We call ourselves a liberal-arts campus. We advertise our "diversity" in pictures posed for prospective students. But when it comes right down to it, the dialogue of this campus community is one demeaning to minority groups and women.

This past week, I walked into the women's bathroom of the library to see a poster advertising Relay for Life, which, in itself, is great. Except that this particular advertisement was not. Instead of emphasizing that the event supports cancer research and services for cancer patients, the slogan reads, in bold letters larger than anything else on the poster: "Great boobs are worth fighting for!" My reaction to this slogan was visceral. Amazed at the idea that someone thought this was an appropriate slogan for Relay for Life, I took the poster off the wall, appalled that supposedly engaged student philanthropists would objectify women in this manner. And probably not think anything of it as they were posting the flyer all around campus, even in women's restrooms.

This apathetic engagement in discriminatory rhetoric and behavior is the real problem. It's not that students at the University of Richmond are ignorant about the problems of race and gender. It's just that they're apathetic. I was abroad spring of last year, so I didn't witness this, but I heard the Sigma Chi philanthropy project to fight breast cancer incorporated similarly demeaning slogans.

Instead of seeing the fight against breast cancer as a chance to become more aware of women's issues, some of the Sigma Chi brothers spent their tabling time in the Commons harassing women, telling them, "Save your boobies!"

Clearly not everyone thinks like this, but what does it mean that such comments continue to recur, that lessons from spring semester do not carry over into fall semester? The recently forwarded Kappa Sigma rush e-mail degrading women is unfortunately yet another sign of the short memory of the University of Richmond.

But women are not the only victims of this discrimination on campus. Last year we all received an email from President Ayers condemning the instances of blackface and the black doll in a noose that occurred at the university. At that time, many campus groups and individuals spoke out against the persistent and appalling racism that such acts signified. And yet, just this past weekend, I witnessed troops of Richmond students walking from the apartments to the "Cowboy and Indian" party, presumably thinking nothing of their racist and offensive Pocahontas dresses and feathers. What people perhaps don't realize is that this behavior is effectively blackface, for Indians.

We are a campus that increasingly prides itself on dialogues of diversity and multiculturalism. Many professors on campus teach classes every semester that examine minority viewpoints. One English seminar this semester even focuses specifically on race and identity in American literature. But, for the majority of Richmond students, the examination of race, gender and diversity sadly does not seem to extend beyond the classroom. This atmosphere of apathy, of disconnect between intellectual dialogue and practical application makes the campus a still unwelcome place for many students.

This is my fourth and final year at the University of Richmond. I'll be gone in a year, and, sad to say, I don't think the campus' views on women and race relations have changed that much during my years here. Nevertheless, I would like to be optimistic that attitudes on this campus can change, that students are not willfully insensitive, but instead lack the awareness to recognize how their actions affect their community. And already there is a strong minority of campus organizations working for change and consciousness of these problems at the university. However, change cannot come without action on the individual level, and so I hope that in the future students will be more aware of the ways in which their actions affect their community.

Contact opinion editor Michael Rogers at michael.rogers@richmond.edu

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