The Collegian
Friday, August 14, 2020

OPINION: UR, let’s get up to speed

<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.

Major news networks are covering protests in the streets and a variety of other political shake-ups that are related to the Black Lives Matter Movement. In this difficult and challenging time, antiracist practices and measures need to be implemented. Some faculty, staff and students are doing this work by taking an active effort to contribute to change while others are seemingly still questioning the value of such practices.

Things at the University of Richmond need to change. Since 1830, the UR community has functioned perfectly within the system of racism, discrimination and white supremacy that has plagued students of color, specifically those who are Black, Latinx or Chinese

Our institution celebrates white supremacy in the way that buildings are named. The Rector of the Board, Paul Queally, has been publicly noted as prejudiced. There have been too many negative experiences for students of color, and there is too much apathy for racism and discrimination, which was evident when three incidents of racist graffiti appeared on door tags.  

Even in the age of fostering inclusive excellence, there are some people that are still getting it wrong. Although UR intends to follow recommendations outlined in the Making Excellence Inclusive final report, the experiences that I had during the 2019-20 academic year are proof that real change needs to be implemented more quickly.  

In the fall of 2019, I took a class with a senior, tenured faculty member. In class, he asked an English-speaking Latino student if he needed subtitles. On another day, he confessed how he often confused Black female students because of their hair. Although some Black women sometimes have the same hair texture or hairstyle, they are and should be distinguishable from other Black women because of other defining factors that this professor clearly wasn’t thinking about. 

In addition to this, another racially charged incident took place in my residence hall. In a group chat, several members of my residential community shared racist memes. The most egregious meme was of Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist famous for refusing to sit in the back of the bus. The shared photo had a picture of Rosa Parks superimposed onto a picture of a bus; her picture was being "sent to back” as part of an edit that was made with Microsoft Word. 

This meme and many others that were shared made me so uncomfortable that I refused to leave my room for a few hours. I was afraid to confront the situation because I felt powerless. 

This same powerlessness appeared again in November 2019 when I found my Black face on a flyer that had been mailed to UR families across the country. A picture of me was used to market the Robins Summer Business Institute, a three-week summer course that was non-credit bearing and cost more than $2,000.

I recognized that my racial and cultural identities were being used to market an academic program. I am not a student of the Robins School of Business and I have never participated in the Robins Summer Business Institute. I was under the impression that the images that I’d consented to being taken were only going to be used for UR’s 2018 Halloween video.  

Despite these negative experiences, I still have love and pride for UR. It is that love and pride that I hope comes through with the list of actionable items below. Our campus community cannot be a refuge for fake allies who perpetuate white supremacy consciously or unconsciously. It’s time for every community member to support students of color, which means:

  1. An Africana Studies department needs to be created to allow — maybe even require — all students to critically engage with Black scholarship and critical Black studies. 
  2. Bodies such as the President’s Student Advisory Council, Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton College Government Association need to amplify the voices and perspectives of students of color. Students, faculty, staff and prospective students need to be educated and aware. A comprehensive resource guide of films, articles, books, and other academic materials needs to be developed and shared with the entire campus community. 
  3. An additional guide that highlights UR’s problematic history also needs to be developed and shared within the campus community. 
  4. Our Board of Trustees needs to diversify. The work of diversity is not being done when the executive decision-making body for the institution does not match the demographics of its student body. 
  5. Professors need more resources to effectively implement inclusive teaching pedagogy. 
  6. Hiring and retaining more faculty of color needs to be a top priority for every academic department. 
  7. The problematic culture and practices of majority-white fraternities and majority-white sororities have to change or end.
  8. And most importantly, we all have to listen, empower, support and love each other.

Contact contributor Will Walker at will.walker@richmond.edu.

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