Alongside these necessitated changes to campus life, students have been challenging campus culture.
Students have shared stories of racism and segregation on UR’s campus and have called for the abolition of Greek life at UR. Many students disaffiliated from their Greek life organizations, and others are pushing for Greek life reform.
Social movements are challenging the UR community to rethink its long-held norms, all the while the COVID-19 pandemic is altering the ways in which UR representatives can present campus life to the outside community.
So, how are prospective students being introduced to campus life this fall?
Senior Marc Gorman, the executive manager of the tour guide program, said tour guides were encouraged to discuss how campus life operates during a typical year. This applies to changes both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Abolish Richmond Greek Life Movement, he said.
“I guess the encouraged language to use is ‘in a typical year,’” Gorman said. “And I mean that doesn’t go just for Greek life, that also goes for, like, percentage of students with cars on campus and the percentage of students living on campus in general, and so I guess we kind of encourage people to say, like, ‘In a typical year this is what the percentage would be.’”
The Office of Undergraduate Admission is currently using statistics from last year about student involvement in Greek life, associate director of admission Rachel Ristow and assistant director of admission Lauren Bennett wrote in an Oct. 19 email to The Collegian. Discussions of Greek life on tours are part of larger conversations of the many clubs and organizations at UR, they wrote.
“Currently, we are reporting last year’s number of total students involved in Greek Life since that is the most up-to-date information that we have,” they wrote. “Student Ambassadors are framing the conversation around Greek Life statistics by stating that the participation rate in past years or traditional involvement is 36% of the overall student body.”
Tour guides are usually given updated statistics about many aspects of campus life around late October of each year, Gorman said.
“Typically when we talk about things like Greek life on the tour, specifically about Greek life, it’s usually more from a statistics perspective,” Gorman said. “So since, like, there was kind of an exodus from Greek life over the summer, we don’t have those updated statistics necessarily, so we are still using ... the typical year statistics. And I mean, that’s also because we don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen this year with Greek life.”
A student tour guide who spoke to The Collegian on the condition of anonymity said handling questions about Greek life during virtual tours was uncomfortable.
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“I’ve gotten one question about it so far, and I just literally am like, ‘I’m going to pass on that,’” the student said. “I feel really uncomfortable talking about it because with my background — I was in [Greek life] and so I disaffiliated and obviously since then I don’t really feel super comfortable painting a certain picture of the university for students … If a student emails me about it, I’m totally going to be honest and upfront, but in an actual live tour session I’d just, like, pass on it.”
Seminars are being held for admission office student ambassadors — an umbrella term for interns, tour guides, diversity ambassadors and office assistants — to keep them up to date on campus life, Ristow and Bennett wrote.
“The seminars are a new addition to our continued training plan this year,” they wrote. “We are offering 4 seminars: Tricky Questions, Practice a Tour Stop, Student Life at Richmond, and Diversity and Inclusion at Richmond. Student Ambassadors must participate in 2 of the above-mentioned seminars.”
Gorman said the seminar about student life was held during the weekend of Oct. 17, and representatives from the Center for Student Involvement, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and University Recreation presented during the seminar, specifically Meg Pevarski, associate director of Greek life; Lisa McCoy, coordinator of Greek life; Blake Stack, assistant director of student engagement and operations; and Wendy Sheppard, assistant director of sports and risk management.
“We’ve been getting a lot of questions about Greek life, so we did want to talk to [CSI] and ask a few questions, like specifically about Greek life, and they were helpful,” Gorman said. “They provided us with, like, some language to use … like a brief overview about Greek life for this semester.”
On Oct. 20 as a follow-up to the seminar, Bennett shared with the tour guide leadership team an overview statement about Greek life that CSI crafted for tour guides to use if they are unsure how to answer questions about Greek life, Gorman said.
The statement, which Gorman shared with The Collegian, reads: “The current status of Greek life at the University of Richmond is being impacted by both Covid and the concerns that have been voiced by students and alums about the Greek system. For now all sorority and fraternity recruitment efforts, and external Greek Life events and programs have been placed on hold through fall 2020. A student-led internal review process has begun with intentional efforts to identify and ultimately implement reforms in 6 specific working group areas. A final report is scheduled to be shared in late spring.”
Tour guides are also encouraged to talk about their own experiences with Greek life, he said. Bennett shared the statement with all of the tour guides via email on Oct. 23 along with other notes from the student life seminar, according to Bennett’s email which was obtained by The Collegian.
In regard to the statement from CSI, Bennett wrote the following in an Oct. 23 email to The Collegian: “We understand that a student-led internal review process of the Greek system at Richmond is underway. Our tour guides often talk about the many different ways they are involved on campus; this is another great example of how students are engaged and involved in shaping the University.”
The final seminar for student ambassadors this semester, Diversity and Inclusion at Richmond, will take place in November, Gorman said. Those presenting during the seminar include Lisa Miles, associate director of Common Ground; Craig Kocher, UR chaplain; Morgan Russell, associate director of multicultural affairs; and Roger Mancastroppa, associate director of the Academic Skills Center, Gorman said.
Gorman said he wished tour guides talked more about diversity at UR during tours.
“It’s hard to talk about diversity because you want to encourage people with, I guess, diverse mindsets or accepting mindsets to come to the school,” he said. “And ... how do you do that? You do that by making it seem like a great place to be, to encourage them to come. But then you don’t want to lie.”
Senior Ana Paula Alvarado, one of the tour guides giving virtual live tours, thinks tour guides should not express opinions about Greek life and instead focus on academics during tours.
“I know there are a lot of things internally that are going on, like Greek life and stuff, but when you’re looking at colleges, your focus is, ‘What school can give me the best academic experience?’” she said. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, we should mention Greek life … [Prospective students] have to know what’s going on.’ But at the same time, if there’s one person that had a bad experience with Greek life and they tell that prospective student, that prospective student is going to have it in their mind.
“While, like, if I were to talk about my experience in Greek life to that same prospective student — I had a good experience, so they’re going to have a good experience. So it’s like, how do they balance out? So in a way it’s like, [tour guides] should focus on academics and then once [prospective students are] here, they can experience it for themselves and come to a consensus themselves — is it good, is it bad?”
The tour guide who spoke on the condition of anonymity wishes it was more common to talk about the lack of connection between UR and the city of Richmond during tours.
“I feel like I get really weird looks when I start to talk about how [UR] actually is, like, a kind of segregated place,” the student said. “Obviously we’re not super close to the town and there’s steps being made to make that better, but I wish we were more transparent about it because it’s something that I personally would have liked to know coming into UR — that we’re not integrated with the city at all.”
However, the tour guide gains hope about UR’s future when talking to prospective students.
“There’s a lot of room for growth, I think is something I like to emphasize [during tours],” the student said. “But, it is a reality that we’re not a perfect campus.”
Ristow and Bennett also wrote in their Oct. 19 email to The Collegian that they want to recruit students who see UR’s opportunities for growth.
“We know that no university is perfect, including the University of Richmond, so we want to recruit students who see Richmond for all its opportunity, promise, and areas of growth,” they wrote. “By creating space for current students to have honest conversations with prospective students, we hope to recruit and admit classes of students prepared to engage openly and honestly with and contribute to the Richmond community."
Ultimately, Gorman said being a tour guide was a sales job.
“Thinking about tour guides, like, the people who become tour guides are usually the people that enjoy going to the school, so you can imagine that they’re generally more positive experiences,” he said. “But also, like I said, we always just encourage the tour guides to be honest with their experiences and it’s not really like —
“You’re not restricted in what you’re allowed to say, but it is also a sales job, so we try to keep it positive. I guess that’s nothing new.”
In regard to the format of admissions events this fall, admissions has adapted its programming to give prospective students a glimpse of UR from home, Gorman said. Gorman is one of the student tour guides who are giving the virtual live tours offered this semester in place of the usual on-campus tours, he said.
“We’re doing virtual live tours, which is basically two tour guides in a seminar kind of format,” Gorman said. “There’s an admissions counselor who gives the typical admissions spiel about, like, costs and applications and stuff like that, and then the two tour guides come in and kind of give the ‘normal’ tour, but with a PowerPoint representing each stop on the tour.”
There are approximately 80 student tour guides, but only 24 are needed to give the virtual tours this semester, he said. Pairs of tour guides give 30-minute virtual tours, and each pair is scheduled once every two weeks, he said. Tours are given Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays, he said.
In addition to virtual live tours, other virtual events offered by the admissions office this semester include Spinning Your Web workshops about admission and aid; departmental spotlights called Spiders in Session; one-on-one Spider Chats between current and prospective students; Virtual Preview Richmond, an overview of UR’s goals and mission; and a program for underrepresented and underserved high school students called Multicultural Online Visit Experience, Ristow and Bennett wrote.
If prospective students visit campus on their own, they have the option of doing self-guided walking or driving tours, Ristow and Bennett wrote.
“Our priority is making sure that the students, faculty, and staff on campus have a safe and healthy place to learn and work,” they wrote. “For prospective families that find their way to campus, they are made aware of our health protocols (masks up, 6 feet, buildings are for students, faculty, and staff only) through signs in the visitor parking lot and in front of the Queally Center. Some will elect to take a Self-guided Walking Tour while others might follow our Driving Tour.”
Alvarado said a benefit of virtual tours was that they are more accessible and affordable for prospective students.
“You just sign up online as a prospective student, and I actually kind of like that that they’re — because now it’s more available,” she said. “Even though it’s a lot more limited, it’s more available for other people. Like, when I was applying to college, I couldn’t come and visit Richmond.”
Admissions plans to move back to some in-person events if UR moves into the less restrictive stages of its Physical Distancing Framework, Gorman said. If tours move to in-person this academic year, they will initially have one tour guide per one family, Gorman said.
Opinions and columns editor Conner Evans contributed to reporting.
Contact managing editor Emma Davis at email@example.com.
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