The President's Commission on University History and Identity hosted a talk regarding the community’s understanding of its history as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.  

“The only point to studying the past is to understand today,” President Emeritus and commission co-chair Edward Ayers said.

Along with Ayers, Lauranett Lee, adjunct assistant professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, co-chairs the commission.

Ayers and Lee spoke about the goal of retelling UR's history, including that of controversial figure Robert Ryland, who served as the first president of Richmond College from 1841 to 1866.

“We are committed to telling an inclusive history, an honest history and a complete history,” Ayers said.

The commission is working with the Virginia Baptist Historical Society to research communities that used to reside in the area. In doing so, the commission said it hopes to form a so-called “University with Richmond.” 

With the help of the society, the commission intends to make public information regarding UR and its surrounding area, making note of a lost population of African Americans in nearby Tuckahoe.

“Our charge is to produce a relatively brief document that lays out what needs to be done to integrate our history,” Ayers said. “What we are going to do is lay out a plan of what we know, how we might acquire to know it, why we know it and then disseminate it.”

Ayers and Lee discussed the placement of physical and digital markers, made by students and faculty, around campus to create an interactive way for students to learn university history. 

“As much as possible, we want students to use the resources that are here to help you understand the university so that you learn about the place where you are,” Lee said.

Ayers echoed this sentiment, adding that any attempts will have a “living presence” on campus.

The commission views this as a way for students to form relationships with their surrounding area.

“I see this as our moment in history to really push forward an initiative where Richmond, the university, is working with the city," Lee said, "not for the city, to lift up its history."

Contact news writer Ben Wasserstein at ben.wasserstein@richmond.edu.