The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

OPINION: The philanthropy of time

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Time is money. Money is time. Philanthropy is almost always defined by the amount of money one gives, whether to an institution, an organization or individuals. 

We tend to feel gratitude to these donors because of how much their money enhanced our lives. That recognition is not inherently bad, because money serves as a tool to expand offices and provide necessities. 

One of the many ways of showing gratitude to a donor is the placement of his or her name on a building. The philanthropists are honored for generations for their donations. If we know nothing else about the donors whose names appear on several buildings at the University of Richmond, we should know that they were white, male and affluent. 

These characteristics disproportionately privileged these men to access extraordinary opportunities.

These donors contributed money that expanded operations of the university and allowed for its growth. However, the names inscribed on the entrances of these buildings represent far more.

The histories of these buildings -- including how they got there and who funded them -- are deliberately omitted from orientation presentations and tour guide spiels. 

One can live on this campus for four years and not know about some of the men whose names appear on its buildings. The names on Ryland and Freeman halls, to name two, are often overlooked, yet represent how the university’s past is ever present. 

The names of these buildings represent not only donations for bricks and mortar but also outdated ideals. They are a symbol of the inexplicable apprehension this university has in letting go of names that fall outside of the boundaries of what it now stands for. 

These names are reminders to look closely at white supremacy and institutional oppression.

When I mention celebration, I am not referring to direct applause of these men for their contributions. I mean that every day that passes with those names on our buildings is a day used to reinforce these men's prominence. 

We all recognize that these men stood for inhumane morals. Douglas Southall Freeman wrote history books in which he glorified the Confederacy, and Robert Ryland owned slaves. We all acknowledge that slavery is wrong -- yet we carry on as if only discussion and debate will reconcile the past and the present and help us to move forward in the future. 

The university can no longer sit aside and spectate. The "heritage" debate continues to be an obstacle in the way of coming to terms with the university’s past. 

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Nor can we push this issue to the wayside and remain quiet. As human rights activist Desmond Tutu reminds us, silence is the voice of our oppressor.

There are two ways the university can respond to students’ sentiments. 

It can completely remove the current names of these buildings and rename them after some of its own trailblazing students of color. If the university wants to go even further, it could not only replace the names but also add a plaque to each renamed building. These plaques would detail the true history of each building's original eponym while describing why it was renamed after a trailblazing student. 

Or it could remain neutral, allowing debate to rage on with no tangible solution in sight. It can remain intransigent to change and progress, two principles which it claims to believe in. It can remain on the oppressor’s side. 

The university must reevaluate what it means to donate. Money is simply a way of adding value. The monetary gifts of rich donors are an important way to add financial value to the school. These donations tend to change the university for the better. Donors and philanthropists are rewarded and celebrated because of how much money they have given, and how that money translates into the value they have added to the school. 

However, when one expands the scope of what it means to donate -- or in essence, add value -- to the University of Richmond, one comes to realize that money is just one of many avenues of adding value. 

Time is an overlooked and under-appreciated form of philanthropy, and can be a way for those without large sums of money to spare to also add value. 

The students who have transformed this campus also deserve to be recognized for generations to come. Although they may not have donated millions of dollars, they donated time that could have been used other ways, including studying, finding internships or working. 

I realize that not every student who has put in time to change the campus can be recognized, but radical change they brought about should be honored even more than people like Ryland and Freeman. 

By discussing what it means to donate, we come to value student activists as much as wealthy donors. 

We come to understand that seven hours donated by a student matters, just as as seven million dollars donated by wealthy alumni matters. We come to redefine who matters, the legacy of this campus and who gets to write its story. 

Because of this, the university should ultimately not only denounce people like Ryland and Freeman but also celebrate the contributions of trailblazing students. 

This is not a question of whether we want to erase history or ignore heritage but a question of who matters at the University of Richmond. Silence is lending a voice to the side in opposition to change and progression. 

My hope is that the university lends its voice to change the names of Ryland and Freeman halls in order to better reflect its values. My hope is also that the university can realize how these names inflict pain on students of color and marginalized communities. 

I hope that we can all realize that, although these names are reminders of important figures in the university's history, they also symbolize oppression, marginalization, intransigence and resistance. There must be an immediate change.

Contact contributor TJ Tann at

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