The Collegian
Saturday, August 15, 2020

OPINION: A culture of apathy.

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

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

UR’s administrative apathy.

You want to talk about abolishing Greek Life — great. Change is needed, but please, don’t stop there. Let’s talk about the University of Richmond’s culture, why reform hasn’t happened in the past and why students don’t see it as an option now. Let’s draw upon Greek Life but also address the institutional problem preventing UR from seeing change.

It’s the culture of apathy perpetuated by the administration. A philosophy telling both students and administrators that “this is the way it’s always been” is enough when more is needed. It’s an excuse that invalidates students’ knowledge, experiences and desire to advocate for their community. Why is UR apathetic? Students go unheard.  

Maybe administrators are unwilling to embrace change because it’s time-consuming or costly to do so. Maybe students are seen as temporary while the UR brand is absolute. But the problem is students are given the impression that they are a cost of doing business instead of being UR’s investment. 

Greek Life and others.

Greek Life, similar to other student organizations, is flawed largely because of how UR operates. By design, students are powerless because of administrative oversight and superficial leadership positions.

Take student leadership within the Panhellenic community as an example. Let’s read a submission, published on the Abolish Richmond Greek Life Instagram account, from a leader within the Panhellenic Community who later disaffiliated from her sorority and another from a former Panhellenic Council member, Alexis Aviles. Both are examples of women on Panhel and/or leaders in their sororities who had spoken out against the system and found it could not be fixed. (Note: I’m not sure they would change their opinion if they’d accomplished what they wanted, nor am I attempting to speak for them.) 

But what does this say about students' positions within Panhel? Who’d blame these two women for abandoning hope for change? They wanted to help their community and were told the status quo was fine and were ignored as student leaders.

During my first year at UR, I asked Westhampton College Dean Mia Reinoso Genoni, “What is the virtue of a coordinate college system?” To which she extolled the leadership opportunities for women, Westhampton College’s heritage and ended saying, “It’s so when women get to the workforce, they won’t take no for an answer.” 

But what’s the virtue of a redundant system that operates on an antiquated binary, genders issues and preserves warped separatist-feminist identity politics? The coordinate college system doesn’t serve the student body — and it especially does not serve those in charge. 

What’s the administration protecting by preserving the coordinate system? If it’s about numbers, just double the student government positions — or let the best person for the job have the job. But the coordinate college system gives opportunities for people in the student government to do what, list a position on a resume?  

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Students need to ask who is in their organizations and whether members reflect the student body. And if the answer to these questions is no, students cannot be afraid to confront these issues. They need to ask how people are selected, how roles are assigned and how they can do better. And: Does university oversight limit their ability to ask these questions and confront these issues?

A word on legacy. 

I was on the Senior Legacy Committee and when asking for donations to the Senior Legacy Campaign from students in my class, I was met with variations of the question: Why should I donate?

“What’s in it for me?” Participation influences national college rankings, thereby affecting the prestige of your degree and you get to feel good about helping future students. “UR’s going to spend it on what a rich alum wants.” You choose where donations go. “UR already has so much money.” It’s about demonstrating your connection to UR — the amount doesn’t matter — it’s just easy to track this way. “Why is that the metric?” I don’t know.  

To me, legacy isn’t solely measured monetarily. Before COVID-19, I'd planned for people to Venmo two cents, and give their figurative two cents in the caption about what should change at UR. If this campaign happened, it could have increased giving and, while I might have been the only person to read those submissions, I’d hoped to collect and share them. Maybe instead of a Well-Being Center (to justify a new practice court), an alum would have chosen to donate funds to make one of these student suggestions a reality.  

Why does UR see students’ value monetarily? I think it’s just how UR has done business  —  and they’re good at it. It’s why students' time feels transactional and is inherent to UR’s culture. 

So, here’s the problem.

It’s naive to think UR has not figured that the costs of keeping Greek Life are outweighed by the resources given by alumni and value as a draw for applicants. Although this may change, it will take time to see a demonstrable difference where UR would consider altering Greek Life’s presence. But the belief that UR doesn’t owe alumni and prospective students a chance at reform fails to account for how UR needs to balance the desires of all its stakeholders. 

Whether UR should be beholden to certain stakeholders because of their fiscal influence on the university (and not prioritize other voices like those featured through Instagram accounts such as: @dearrichmond, @abolishrichmondgreeklife, @blackatrichmond, @humansofur) is a larger discussion to be had. But the present reality that students must acknowledge is that UR is accustomed to appeasing these interest groups. And that change will be glacial because UR will have to reconsider how it values different voices within its community. 

What can be done?

Students should decide UR’s future. For Greek Life, students will choose to resign or reform, but let each do what they think is right and have UR adapt to the culture they dictate. This process will be guided by the administration, but students should be allowed successes (and failures) in trying to better their community. 

UR administrators and Panhel/IFC leaders should take this semester, seeing how student organizations will have to suspend most of their operations for the fall, to figure out a plan for reforming Greek Life. Then share that plan and outline a trial period. After some time, see what works, if the change is substantial enough for Greek life to continue and be prepared for another round of trial and error or all-out abolition. 

But it will take years of experimentation before a new normal is accepted. Only then will UR be able to accurately represent itself to prospective students who can choose to attend based on the culture exhibited by the student body.

The age of good enough is over.

It’s not enough to have held a position, you have to — and should want to — have accomplished something. Employers do not hire empty suits. Tenacity and leadership are desirable in the real world, so why wouldn’t UR want to foster that? 

My peers are brilliant. If UR decided to invest in its students, I could not imagine what they could accomplish and the legacy students could build for themselves. 

For whatever Greek Life’s interim may look like, but more so for the entire student body, the administration needs to choose to value its students so they are empowered to lead and shape their community. Change is hard, but UR’s students are evolving. So should the University of Richmond.

Contact alumna Lauren Weingarten at lauren.weingarten@richmond.edu.

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