The Collegian
Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Race and Racism Project receives new leadership, maintains name

<p>University of Richmond archives, which are housed by the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.&nbsp;</p>

University of Richmond archives, which are housed by the Virginia Baptist Historical Society. 

Despite The Race and Racism Project's new leadership and possible name change, leaders want students to know that the direction, purpose and content of the project will remain. 

The Race and Racism Project documents, interrogates and catalyzes community discussions on the history of race and racism at UR, according to The Race and Racism Project's website. The project is an interdisciplinary initiative focused around student-centered research and community-based learning, according to its website.

Ernest McGowen, associate professor of political science, became the project's coordinator in 2020 after Nicole Maurantonio, associate professor of rhetoric and communication studies, stepped down.

McGowen had extra space in his service obligations and took interest in assuming the role of coordinator after Maurantonio left the position, he said.

"I think it's a wonderful project that dovetails with my particular work in race and ethnicity," McGowen said. 

Amy Howard, an interim senior administrative officer at the University of Richmond and a representative of the Race and Racism Project, said she was immensely grateful for Maurantonio and Irina Rogova, the former program archivist, who both worked to pilot the program. 

Howard said she was excited for the disciplinary lens and tools that McGowen would bring to the project.

"So we have a strong historical component and historical methods that have been key to the project's success," Howard said. "We will now be able to build in social science methodology, which is his expertise, to kind of expand the methodological tools that we're using to understand the history of race and racism and its impact on the University of Richmond and wider communities."

Meghna Melkote, sophomore and former Race and Racism Project fellow, said she thought McGowen's political science background and experience would be a valuable asset in his new position.

"I think he is going to do a good job, particularly because he is a race scholar," Melkote said.

McGowen's focus on qualitative research and making the project more research-centered will provide good direction, Melkote said. 

Despite talk of the Race and Racism Project changing its name, McGowen was clear that as of now the name has not changed, but it could in the future, McGowen said.

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"We are in the process of thinking about ... what is the best way to present the project in order to get people to come check out our website and check out the good work that we've done," McGowen said.

Whether the name of the project changes, both McGowen and Howard emphasized that it will not in any way impact the goals, methods and outcomes of the Race and Racism Project. 

"I know that many of the past participants worry that the name change is also a signal of a change in direction, is a change in framing, is a change in priorities, and so I can see where a lot of the questions as to why the name change should happen come from," McGowen said, "and I fully appreciate all of their concerns on that." 

The discussion of the name of the project will unfold under McGowen's leadership, but it will be a collaborative effort among faculty, staff and students, Howard said.

As for the future, the Race and Racism Project will no longer be working with the Virginia Baptist Historical Society to conduct archival research, Melkote said, but students will be doing the archival research on The Collegian.

Students will look at The Collegian articles to see what language was used to describe people of color, how the The Collegian treated events like the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and what was absent in the coverage, McGowen said.

"I think it's a way to expand our understanding," Howard said. "It's about bringing more methodological tools to critical introspection about this institution and the experiences of the people here."

McGowen is also looking to keep the students who participated in the Race and Racism Project involved in the project after the summer ends, he said. This would include bringing speakers to campus and having events throughout the fall and spring, McGowen said. 

"I think that this would be an opportunity for students to take agency over their university and its direction as it comes to the history of race or the history of people of color that are here," McGowen said. "And we also hope, which we have seen in the past, to continue the fostering of the student support systems that still maintain past the summer."

Contact contributor Cate Bonner at cate.bonner@richmond.edu.

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