The Collegian
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

An Open Letter to the University of Richmond

I could fill a book with things I really love and appreciate about Richmond -- wonderful classes, faculty who take the time and effort to invest in my education, research opportunities, programs like SSIR or WILL, which have so enhanced my time here, and even the fro-yo in D-Hall.

But lately my school spirit seems to be dwindling, as recent events suggest that Richmond is not the institution I thought (or hoped) it was. I am disheartened by the university's decision to cut men's track and soccer. Not because I am remotely invested or even involved in either sport, but because it says that a big enough donation can sway the university one direction without any regard to the effect on student life.

The decision by the Board of Trustees suggests to me that money and politics are more important than student growth and development. The hours upon hours of dedication these students have given to their university are wiped clean and rendered meaningless; moreover, no adequate explanation or apology is given beyond empty platitudes over the direction and strategic plan of the university. Worse still, there was little to no student say or consultation in a decision that would, first and foremost, impact the lives of students.

Further, the reaction to the changes of Ring Dance suggest to me that my classmates and many alumi care more about an antiquated tradition than the creation of a university which is truly inclusive to all and not just a select few. The hateful words characterizing so much of The Collegian comment section invalidated the experiences of trans individuals, while demonizing anyone who may fit outside a specific gender identity or expression.

A complete lack of empathy for low-income students who may have a difficult time affording the trappings of Ring Dance, or to students who do not feel comfortable inviting their family and do not want to feel like the odd one out with a faculty member or mentor accompanying them, was demonstrated throughout these discussions.

I call on those who seem to care more about their personal Ring Dance experiences than listening to the voices of marginalized groups to have more compassion, and to at least try to understand why changes such as these may help others feel more included.

It is times like these, those of anxiety and struggle, that we as a university community must reflect on and answer some core questions. What type of community do we want to be? What values do we want to reflect?

I would hope that in thinking these questions through, the answer is not one that is dominated by money over student say, or by privilege and exclusion over empathy and understanding.

What can we do to make our university community one that truly reflects and appreciates the voices of students? More so, how can we ensure that the voices of students so often marginalized -- students of color, queer students, students from low-income backgrounds, and more -- are heard and do not fade away into the background?

I truly believe in the possibility of a Richmond that is inclusive of all and supportive of student growth and development. This future, however, seems compromised at the moment.

I call on all my fellow Spiders to contemplate and engage in the potential of this future and take action, even when it seems far away.

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