The Collegian
Wednesday, February 01, 2023

The 'Richmond bubble' stifles student expression

The University of Richmond has an incredibly beautiful campus. It's been said before, but we truly live in a college brochure. I never visited campus before orientation of my first year, and as I drove along the perfect lake, past the Commons (it's a building and a bridge!) and pulled up to the tiny castle Lora Robins, I couldn't believe how much it felt like stepping into the pages of the many UR magazines I had received the previous year. It felt like at any point I could run into the laughing, school-spirited, interracial groups of friends that the informational pamphlets had taught me would be carrying their schoolbooks or sitting on picnic tables around every turn. Almost three years later, I still feel proud and lucky to be here every time I walk into the perfect library, pristine gym or, more commonly, eat in any of the shiny, well-maintained "retail dining locations." In fact, campus is so numbingly polished that I didn't realize the huge missing factor until I found my favorite room on campus.

Technically, my favorite room is probably more of a closet, and I don't know if it even has a name. I call it the Sticker Room. In case you've never been there, the Sticker Room is tacked onto the side of a big meeting room upstairs in the Commons, and it's used to store all the odds and ends belonging to various student organizations. It's also covered in stickers. Stickers with images and stickers with words coat the walls and doors: logos of brands and bands, political messages, slogans, jokes and pictures of people's faces I don't recognize. For me, walking into that room is an intoxicating thrill because it admits UR's dirty little secret: We, the students, have a crazy array of interests, thoughts and opinions, and they aren't all great or important or informed. We are diverse and messy and totally imperfect.

The Sticker Room connects us to years of alumni who, at least while they were students, thought it was important that we rock the vote, listen to rapper Charli Baltimore, know that "blood donors do it lying down" and visit a club called Covered Dish in Gainesville, Florida. It's an awesome collage of admirable causes and regrettable tastes (sometimes vice versa), and after finding it I miss that feeling everywhere else on our pretty, cultivated campus.

When you think about it compared to most other U.S. colleges, it's actually eerie how little we leave our mark on the walkways and buildings that we frequent every day. And if you've ever looked up the posting policy, you'll know that it's not necessarily for a lack of trying. Any flyer daintily taped to a public bathroom stall door can be removed by the staff for a variety of reasons, in some cases simply for failing to get pre-approved. Just to clarify, that's administrative pre-approval to tape a piece of paper to a metal bathroom stall. Is the fear that a rogue flyer will contain some anarchist propaganda so convincing that one look will brainwash innocent stall occupants until the school is lost to our rioting? I find it slightly more likely that the wrong student message risks proving unpalatable to the right visitor's wallet.

Maybe it is time for a little bit of anarchy. I love our beautiful campus, but I would love it more with a little less sterility and a little more free expression. When I walk to class, I want to see the music tastes, bad jokes and crazy politics of my fellow students, and I want to have the option of sharing my own. I'm running out of room for the stickers and pins above my bed, and I'm even getting charged for having those.

This is an issue that could be partially remedied by a few more spaces on campus that belong to just the students. We could do with some rooms or even just a few more big closets where clubs, teams and friends don't have to reserve a table, register an event or check out a key in order to meet. I have faith in our ability to rearrange our own chairs if we could also be given the reins to hang up a poster or bring some food from a (gasp) non-approved vendor. Despite needing a key to enter, the Sticker Room has been a great bastion of hope, yet on my last visit many clubs' belongings had been removed without warning to accommodate storage for the neighboring Career Services.

This might not matter to everybody, but a main reason that many students choose a liberal arts college is for an expectation associated with that title: That they will be exposed to new ideas, have their convictions challenged, and have the resources to share their own beliefs. Students need the space and rights for this to happen fluidly, naturally and without hierarchy or censorship.

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