The Collegian
Thursday, February 22, 2024

OPINION | Engaging with our past

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

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

At this moment on campus, as we try to celebrate our diversity -- and, in doing so, work to build a more inclusive community -- it is important to remember what unites us as Spiders. 

All of us at the University of Richmond come from different places, different pasts and different backgrounds to create a unique community. Despite these differences, what unites us is a shared identity that consists of both the present moment of UR and the history of this institution. 

A review of our institutional history reveals both the good and the bad. At times, our history can make us proud to be Spiders. At other times it can make us question how we feel about our institution and our predecessors. 

It is our responsibility as custodians of UR and its history to reflect upon our history and to move forward in bettering this university. We need to leave UR a better place than we found it and help it grow for future generations. 

In light of research on this place, both recently completed and ongoing, we know that this land used to be owned by slave owners. We know that there is a burial ground for the enslaved on this land that has twice been disregarded and disrespected by the institution. 

We know that Robert Ryland, the first president of Richmond College as well as the namesake of Ryland Hall, was a slave owner himself. We know that Douglas Southall Freeman, for whom Freeman Hall is named, was a leader in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy Movement. Many of the prominent historical figures of this community had serious complexities in their own personal characters, which makes reflecting and discussing our history difficult. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that many of those community members whom we should uphold for their leadership and courage have been left out of the historical narrative of this institution.

It is never easy for us to accept and understand the troubling actions and beliefs of those who came before us both in this institution and in this space. However, if we are to grow as a community, we must take the time to reflect on and learn about what happened here. 

Although our past is reflective of who we were, it is not reflective of who we are. We demonstrate both who we are today and who we will be as an institution by the manner in which we respond to these findings, in how we reflect and through the ways we choose to remember the past and move forward with the knowledge of those troubling actions. 

To do this, we must come together as a community to learn about our past so that we can adequately reflect on it and take appropriate steps toward repairing or celebrating our history. These actions are all the more important in light of recent findings and events that have taken place on our campus. We must work to correct historical injustices and honor the great but often forgotten figures of our past. 

For this reason, the Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton College Government Association are co-sponsoring an institutional history week around Richmond College’s 180th Founder’s Day during the first week in March. 

During this week, we will be hosting an institutional history panel with Edward Ayers, president emeritus and co-chair of the University Memorialization Committee, Lauranett Lee, a leader of many of the completed and ongoing institutional history research projects and Shelby Driskill, who completed the research project on the Westham burying ground. 

The Institutional History Panel will take place on Tuesday, March 3, and will have an update on completed and ongoing research, as well as a discussion on the research process, findings and potential next steps. There will also be time for students and other audience members to ask questions. 

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On Wednesday, March 4, at 5 p.m. in the Whitehurst Living Room, there will be an alumni panel with Barry Greene, Isabelle LeSane and Madieth Malone, who all graduated in the class of 1972. These three alumni are incredibly important in our shared history for their work in ending formal racial segregation, and all of them should be celebrated for their leadership and courage in making this school a better place.  

Only through a new historical narrative can we hope to build a brighter tomorrow. We look forward to coming together as a community to help strengthen our ties to each other and to work together as we move forward and learn about our past.  

Benjamin Weiser and Claire Tate are representatives of Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton College Government Association, respectively. Contact them at and

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