On Jan. 18, The Collegian published an op-ed by professor Eric Anthony Grollman that asserted the University of Richmond “elevates the status of white heterosexual cisgender men at the expense of everyone else.”
Not only is this claim brazen, it is also constructed almost entirely from speculation, hyperbole and anecdote. Grollman’s piece outlines three broad groups of evidence that they believe adequately prove that UR endorses white male supremacy: lodge parties, the naming of campus buildings and curricular choice. Here, we’ll deconstruct each point.
Grollman’s first assertion about the centrality of lodges in UR’s social scene is colored to imply that their management is racist. Further, Grollman writes that this racism is endorsed through university policing policies. They claim fraternities have access to "resources" that other student organizations do not have, but does not identify what these resources are.
As students ourselves, we find this claim boggling.
Fraternities and sororities are nationwide organizations with sprawling bureaucratic structures and hefty dues that enable them to dominate UR’s otherwise lackluster social scene. Moreover, the discussion of how frats manage entry to their functions overlooks two key issues.
First, there is not an estimated rate at which people of color attend lodges, let alone how often they are turned away. Second, thanks to UR's new “guest list” policy, selectivity is now mandated. Finally, regulation of entry is a privilege that may actually benefit the lodges and UR writ large, because of the risks these events pose. Turning away problem students or other offenders is something we can probably all agree with — but there is no evidence to suggest that students of color are disproportionately impacted by this policy.
Besides, every other registered campus organization has access to easily over 100 rooms and other spaces to host events, as well as access to a wide funding pool that exists because many of these same organizations do not charge dues like Greek life ones. Use of facilities and access to money are not qualified by the racial composition of groups, and Grollman supplies no evidence that this policy has been violated. Without addressing these issues or exploring what non-Greek life organizations can do to break ground in the social arena, the degree to which racism can be definitively blamed for these concerns is dubious at best.
Likewise, Grollman’s comments about “racial surveillance” are extremely insulting to our hardworking and incredibly diverse police department. About 50 percent of its officers are women or people of color. “Often white,” as Grollman describes the officers, is not an accurate depiction. The University Police Department does not exist to surveil any student organizations — let alone in a racially selective fashion — and is present at campus events only to ensure student safety and enforce university policy and Virginia law. Grollman’s insinuations contrary to this are based only on bad-faith conjecture and demonstrated unfamiliarity with the men and women serving in URPD.
The second piece of Grollman's argument points to the names of many of UR’s most prominent buildings, such as the Modlin Center for the Arts and the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business. Although we do not dispute some of the disturbing history associated with these names, neither can we turn a blind eye to the enormous contributions they have made to the university in their time. Consider E. Claiborne Robins, whose donation of over $50 million in 1969 saved UR from bankruptcy.
Without financial contributions from these white male donors, disgruntled professors such as Grollman would not even have a platform to disparage them from. Financial considerations are a reality of life and business, and cannot be divorced from the question of to whom the university chooses to dedicate its architecture. Most importantly, "presentism” — the uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes – especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts – should not be the standard for such evaluations.
Grollman’s final critique concerns UR's curricula. They point to a lack of scholastic support for academic dimensions of historically marginalized groups. However, many more-established disciplines, such as history, sociology, psychology and political science, offer a considerable degree of flexibility for specializing in or combining any of these fields.
Furthermore, in relation to other understaffed departments such as Arabic and Russian, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department does rather well, with around four times as many faculty members. And, unlike the Russian department, it enjoys considerable support from organizations such as WILL* and Common Ground.
Although any department could do better with more resources, the opportunities that exist to aid minority students indicate that there is no privileging of white cishet academia.
Grollman is welcome to voice any concerns they have about student life here at UR. But we suggest that if they aim to implicate this institution and its fine students and faculty in such serious ideologies and practices, they would be better off doing so in a more thoughtful manner with empirical evidence to support their beliefs.
Contact contributors Maddie Bright and Michael Robinson at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.