The Collegian
Sunday, October 25, 2020

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Notes from the Margins: An Introduction

<p><em>Graphic by The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by The Collegian

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

Welcome to Notes from the Margins.

As editor-in-chief Olivia Diaz wrote in the letter to the reader published on Aug. 26, we hope this section can be a space for Black, Indigenous and other people of color to share their perspectives on what it’s like to be a person of color at the University of Richmond, whether that be through personal narratives, campus commentary, art, poetry or any other form of expression. We hope to keep this section as open as possible for people of color to share their stories in whatever form they come. To that end, we ask that submissions be written as “I” statements and use sources to support claims where relevant.

We hope this section will serve as a platform to amplify the vital viewpoints, opinions and leadership of students of color on this campus. Although we recognize that there is much to be done beyond mere representation, we believe bringing the perspectives of students of color from the margins — where they so often reside — to the center is a crucial step in making UR a place that truly recognizes and serves the needs of all its students.

As editors of this section, we recognize that the particular socio-political moment brought about by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement helped precipitate the creation of this section. Watching people all across the world, including those in the city of Richmond, demand justice has been both inspiring and humbling. We seek to be a part of this reckoning, even if on a smaller scale. 

Recent social media accounts created to provide space for marginalized student voices have also laid the foundation for the creation of this column. In our opinion, we are grateful for and respect the work being done by the recently created Instagram pages @dearrichmond, @blackatrichmond and @abolishrichmondgreeklife to provide Black, Indigenous and other students of color with platforms to share their perspectives, uncensored and undiluted. We hope this column can function as an extension of this work and allow for a wider variety of expression from students of color to our entire campus community.

Keeping with the intentions of this section, we thought we would share our own perspectives as UR students. As Black women who are now juniors at UR, we have both had many encounters that have made painfully clear the reality that UR was not built for us, no matter how much the administration touts its efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion through “inclusive excellence.” 

On an institutional level, we feel that many initiatives aiming to foster diversity, equity and inclusion have left much to be desired. At UR, we often rely on committees, commissions, advisory boards, reports, task forces and town halls to create change, but these alone are not enough. 

Between 2017 and 2019, three presidentially appointed committees were created to lay the foundation of  UR’s work towards inclusive excellence: the President’s Advisory Committee for Making Excellence Inclusive; the Interim Coordinating Council for Thriving, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity; and the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity. In late 2018, consultants commissioned by UR collected data on how to make UR a more inclusive institution under the pillars of “thriving, inclusion, diversity, and equity” to better support students of color. Administration then strategized accordingly, as evidenced by the Making Excellence Inclusive Report.

Yet around the same time as the release of the Making Excellence Inclusive report, UR decided to restructure the Race and Racism Project it often boasts as evidence of its progress. The restructuring of the project, which called for a general shift in focus toward integrating the project into classes and other campus structures, at the end of the pilot phase happened with little student input and left the project without its main source of leadership, former project archivist Irina Rogova. After using this project as a talking point to boast about UR’s initiatives to promote inclusive excellence, UR administration undermined its work — and the visions of the student leaders behind it — by failing to center the students most involved in its work in the planning of the restructuring. More recently, a coalition of Black students called for the creation of an Africana studies department with a detailed and thoughtful proposal, yet there has been no outpouring of support and commitment to the department’s creation from the UR administration.

What good are these commissions and reports if they don’t inspire decisive action? UR constantly touts its efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, but time and again the students who are the backbone of and most impacted by this work see UR fall far short of their visions and expectations. There is an ever-present need to rally around and listen to student leaders of color who are informed and passionate about creating change on this campus.

Black, Indigenous and other students of color have given tremendous amounts of time and labor through student activism to UR, and it is past time that they start receiving the world-class education that UR advertises and promises. We hope that this section will be a place where readers are not only informed about the perspectives of Black, Indigenous and other people of color at UR but gain insight into what the UR community might be able to do to improve it on both the individual and institutional level. 

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Most importantly, we hope that students of color might find a sense of freedom and empowerment as their perspectives — which are too often marginalized — are amplified, highlighted and brought to the center. 

Contact Notes from the Margins co-editor Shira Greer at shira.greer@richmond.edu and Notes from the Margins co-editor Kristen Starks at kristen.starks@richmond.edu.

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