The Collegian
Thursday, August 06, 2020

'Reclaim our power': rebooting student organizing at Richmond

We, the students, are at a crossroads. We, as a collective body, have seen many changes in the past 12 months at University of Richmond. Yet many of those decisions have been made on our behalf without our direct input. As students around the country are arguing, we deserve to have a voice at the table and the power to be heard. Students have long fought for their own power to effect meaningful change within and apart from their institutions of higher education. From the Parisian student uprisings of '68 to the Quebecois 100,000-plus marches against tuition hikes in past years, students have leveraged their collective voice to defeat policies opposed to their interests.

Similar battles to claim an authoritative student voice continue today. Across the country, students are convening state- and national-level assemblies to discuss the role of universities in their communities, the possibilities of divestment as an advocacy tool and the ever-looming threat of tuition increases even in a sluggish economy. These battles affect every student across the country, since they will determine the future of higher education in the United States.

To some extent, students at University of Richmond are isolated from these struggles. Our generous need-based aid policies help 60 percent of our student body afford our exorbitant tuition and fees. Our sophomore scholars in residence (SSIR) programs provide students once-in-a-lifetime chances to pursue interdisciplinary topics over the course of a full year of programming and travel. We are--in comparison to many of our peer institutions--blessed by the wealth and small size of our school.

Yet even we must be wary of saying that power truly lies with the students of University of Richmond.

Here at UR, we're confronted by an administration that refuses to allow voting student-members on to the executive committee of the board of trustees, excludes students from meaningful debates on the fate of the coordinate college system and deliberately maintains a weak student government system. From the gutting of the men's track and field and soccer programs to the problematic naming of our new admissions center, it's abundantly clear that many decisions happen at this university is closed rooms where young people are nowhere to be found.

As consumers of a University of Richmond education, we are accountable to the actions of our institution. We have the ability to contest how our tuition is used in our name to advance our supposed long-term benefit. It's quite a shame, for instance, that we have no clue where our university's well-over $1.8 billion endowment is invested and how much of that pool is re-invested in our local community. In order for The Richmond Promise to be fully realized, it's essential for students like us to draw attention to these policies and practices to better understand the place we call home.

In light of these tensions, our commitment to student power is only more important.

To address some of the issues raised above, the Roosevelt Institute at the University of Richmond will start to convene monthly summits of concerned students to build alliances across issue-based organizations and leverage our voice on campus. A branch of the nation's largest student public policy group, Roosevelt is a student group dedicated to empowering student voices in national politics through local policy changes.

What we want to do in this project is reclaim our power over projects undertaken on our behalf. It's high time that we disrupt this paradigm and challenge conventional thinking about where economic and human resources are invested and how student voices are heard in those conversations.

A founder of our national umbrella organization is famous for noting, "College campuses are essentially think-tanks, just inefficient ones." By rolling out this new initiative, we hope our branch of the Roosevelt Institute can convene students from a host of positions, student organizations and lived experiences to rediscover the power of collective student organizing.

The Roosevelt Institute at the University of Richmond hosted the first Progressive Students' Summit Saturday October 19th from 2-4 p.m. in THC 305. All are welcome regardless of organizational or party affiliations. For more information, email ur.rooseveltinstitute@gmail.com

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