On Monday, I tried to switch from Westhampton College to Richmond College. My request to re-affiliate was denied.
Here’s why I wanted to switch colleges: I am a senior. My four years at the University of Richmond were bookended by two events that rocked the campus to its core: Within the first month of my freshman year, UR’s reporting structure for sexual assault was publicly exposed, and at the beginning of this semester, students refused to be silent after racial epithets were written on several dorm room name tags and a student was assaulted. Neither of these problems are unique to our campus, but UR’s antiquated institutions perpetuate systemic straight white male privilege that keeps the university from effectively addressing these problems.
Most of the spaces on this campus were created only for certain groups of people. This campus started by exclusively admitting white men. Westhampton College was created in 1914 and only integrated with Richmond College in 1975. Black students weren’t admitted into the school until 1968.
Until the 1970s, qualified candidates for faculty positions were not hired due to their religion. Inclusive, non-gendered language was only introduced into the coordinate college system in 2017. White male privilege is written in our very history as a campus, and although we have implemented new programs and directed funding to new departments and positions, the problems of safety and inclusion that we have on our campus can never be fully addressed until we address how our very institutions perpetuate them.
Having two different colleges is a remnant of this exclusive past. I’ve heard all the arguments in favor of the coordinate college system: that it provides two sets of resources for students, that it gives students twice as many leadership opportunities and that it productively highlights gender differences in a way that facilitates a campus dialogue. But all these benefits would still be possible if the university completely dismantled the gendered aspect of the two colleges.
Technically, there is no “coordinate college system” any longer — at least not according to the administration. Nor is the two-college system gendered anymore. But that doesn’t change the fact that students are sorted by gender when they commit to attending UR, and the onus is on them to choose to change colleges if they feel that their identity does not match where they were placed. It doesn’t change the fact that there are two colleges determined by gender within a system that no longer recognizes only two genders.
Two sets of resources, twice as many leadership opportunities and a campus dialogue can all be provided by one massive college -- or by two colleges that don’t entrench historical sexism and transphobia. Students can be sorted alphabetically, by geographical location, by intended major or even whether they think a hot dog is a sandwich. Anyone who looks me in the eye and tells me the current system of Westhampton College and Richmond College is the only way to provide these benefits is not thinking creatively enough.
I tried to switch colleges to demonstrate that the system itself is flawed. Joe Boehman, the dean of Richmond College, said he would not allow me to affiliate with Richmond College because my reason for switching was an act of protest. But if Richmond College really isn’t just for men, why do I need any particularly good reason to join? If the system is no longer bound by its history of gender separation, shouldn’t I be able to choose a college without scrutiny of my reasoning?
Dean Boehman said the process of switching is there for people who are uncomfortable with their current position; he emphasized that he was not approving my request to switch because I am comfortable in Westhampton College. This is unequivocally true: I have had the distinct pleasure to work with the Westhampton Dean’s Office several times throughout my four years, and each time has been a joy. The deans and the entire staff there are welcoming, caring, and I legitimately feel that they want the best for me. I am not uncomfortable in Westhampton College, but I am uncomfortable in this gendered system. I do not believe it is beneficial to the University of Richmond or to myself, and this is the reason I attempted to switch colleges.
I hope that my effort and its nonacceptance make you think twice about the system as it stands today, and perhaps how it should change.
Contact contributor Eliana Fleischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.