The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Ayers discusses university, city relations during forum

Student leaders from almost fifty campus organizations gathered Tuesday night to engage in a candid discussion with President Edward L. Ayers and other university officials on the state of relations between the University of Richmond and the City of Richmond.

The event, which was hosted by Mortar Board, an honor society focused on recognizing academic and personal achievement among seniors, brought together members of a wide range of organizations, from the student government associations to the Boxing Club to fraternities and sororities.

Discussion was started by remarks from the president, as well as Theresa Dolson, manager of community-based learning for the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, and the Rev. Craig Kocher, Richmond's new head chaplain.

Ayers spoke on the need to loosen the tension of the "town-gown relationship" between the city and university.

He said that the "soul of the university is at stake," and that students needed to take advantage of what the city had to offer, citing UR Downtown and the newly opened bus route as possible avenues.

Students commented that it seemed like the school had ceded large parts of the city to Virginia Commonwealth University, a larger institution located in the heart of Richmond.

Dolson acknowledged that some students might have no one to go back to, to connect what they experienced in the real world with what they learned in the classroom. She stressed that the university really was a mechanism for connecting passions, and that students could help the community help itself.

Kocher described his experience being a chaplain at Duke, saying that sometimes people could live "blocks away and worlds apart."

He also spoke of developing a theme of friendship with those in the city, while avoiding a legacy of pain that had developed between other schools and their surroundings.

Students also took time to comment on their own service-learning experiences, with sophomore RCSGA senator Colin Billings saying, "It was not what I expected. ... We have a lot to learn; we need to put faith in those who teach us."

Junior Alex Szajko expressed his concern that "we are both too close and too far away." With a variety of activities available on campus, he was concerned that students might not have a desire to expose themselves to the city, except for short trips to Carytown or Short Pump.

The president closed by imploring leaders to come up with their own initiatives, and share them with the rest of the community, and to think of more ways to bring people to campus.

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He also announced the "Future of Richmond's Past" project, which will implore students and others to examine Richmond's role as the capital of the Confederacy, but also to explore the city in general.

As part of this effort, all historical sites in Richmond will be open to the public for free on April 16, and students are encouraged to help volunteer as well as explore the area.

Ayers is a historian of the American South, with a Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate in American Studies.

Contact reporter Milos Jovanovic at

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