The University of Richmond – at its foundation and in its everyday practices – elevates the status of white heterosexual cisgender men at the expense of everyone else.
Not only does this undermine the university’s efforts to diversify its student body, but it also creates a divisive and exclusive campus environment. The previous semester reflected this problem well, from its start with UR’s ranking as the ninth most segregated campus to its conclusion with local news coverage of two white male students’ public Snapchat video of a gingerbread house they decorated with swastikas. In order to genuinely advance equity and inclusion at UR, the university must recognize and then abolish white cishet male supremacy on campus.
There are several obvious ways in which the university actively privileges white cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) men.
First, there is the centrality of “lodge parties” -- hosted by historically white fraternities -- in campus party life. These fraternities have resources to host popular events that sororities and historically non-white Greek-life organizations – not to mention other student organizations – lack. One critical resource is the minimal presence of campus law enforcement inside of their events.
Meanwhile, students have told me that black student organizations are regularly required to have a high presence of cops in their events.
This mandate is insensitive to the discomfort that people of color live through in the presence of (often white) law enforcement, and essentially amounts to racial surveillance. Historically white frats have free reign over determining who can enter and who cannot, which often results in racial segregation that goes unchecked by university non-discrimination policies.
Second, campus buildings are overwhelmingly named in honor of white men donors and former university presidents. Worse, some of these men are known for their active resistance to equality.
Ryland Hall is named after UR’s first president, Robert Ryland – a slave owner. The Heilman Dining Center is named in honor of E. Bruce Heilman, a former UR president who described Title IX legislation to end sexism in higher education as a form of “government intrusion.” The Modlin Center for the Arts was named in honor of former university president George Modlin, who begrudgingly complied with federal mandates to desegregate, describing them as “interference” by the state Office for Civil Rights in a letter to the governor. And then there’s the statue of E. Claiborne Robins, whose company developed an intrauterine device (the Dalkon Shield) that killed dozens of women and sterilized thousands more – a fact never mentioned on campus tours.
Our campus will soon break ground for a third building financially supported by, and named in honor of, trustee Paul Queally.
UR chose not to distance itself from Queally in 2013 after news broke of his sexist and homophobic “jokes” at a secret fraternity for one-percenters. Rather, Queally’s name was subsequently etched into a second and, now, a third building, and he was elected to the position of rector of the board of trustees. In accepting gifts and donations without a critical eye, the university continues to almost exclusively celebrate rich white men because white men are overrepresented among wealthy Americans (specifically, our wealthy alumni and donors) and among our university leadership.
There are other examples, such as staffing: few women of color and LGBTQ people in university administration; few faculty members of color and LGBTQ faculty members (especially among tenured associate and full professors); the overrepresentation of people of color in service and low-level professional jobs.
Then, there is the dominance of white cishet men scholars and authors in the curricula, and the absence of or limited support for curricula on marginalized communities (e.g., queer and trans studies, black studies). And campus offices dedicated to supporting marginalized students are understaffed and underfunded, yet overburdened in doing the work of multiple offices. For example, the three staff members in the Office of Multicultural Affairs also run Disability Services, the Oliver Hill Scholars program and probably others.
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To be clear, white cishet male supremacy is not unique to UR. But the institution is no less complicit in the elevation of white heterosexual cis men – in campus social life, in staffing, in the classroom, on buildings and so on. We must reckon with this.
There are infinite ways big and small that the university could be a model institution for systematically resisting white cishet patriarchy and proactively elevating people of color, women and LGBTQ people.
We can create meaningful anti-racist, women-centered social spaces as alternatives to the lodge parties. We could eliminate the coordinate college system of sex segregation and put mechanisms in place ensuring that cis women and trans people receive just as many opportunities for leadership as cis men. And, as new buildings are built, let’s enforce a policy that they must be accessible, have restrooms for all genders and celebrate the lives of oppressed people (via the buildings’ names, layout and functions).
I am optimistic that UR can lead the charge of higher education institutions that abolish white cishet male supremacy in the U.S. A crucial first step is acknowledging its historical and contemporary presence on our campus.
Eric Anthony Grollman is an assistant professor of sociology at UR. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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