Editor's Note: Shira Greer and Kristen Starks are Collegian editors.
A group of students who recently released a statement about Black student welfare on campus organized and led a widely-attended, virtual teach-in protest on Friday, which was intended to educate the University of Richmond community on the history of Black activism and promote the student coalition's demands for social and nominal change at UR.
The statement and subsequent teach-in were sparked by UR’s failure to reconcile with negative parts of its past, said senior Jesse Amankwaah, who helped organize the protest.
“The immediate motivation behind the event was the collective outrage at the way the university has approached wrestling with its racist history, Amankwaah said, "as well as a bubbling frustration coming from the university's lack of resources and accommodations for students in general, and Black students in particular."
The teach-in was organized by Amankwaah, Shira Greer, Simone Reid, Kayla Corbin, Katiana Isaac, Jordyn Lofton and Kristen Starks.
The coalition of Black students released "Protect Our Web: A Statement on Black Student Welfare" on March 4. It was written after UR president Ronald Crutcher announced on Feb. 25 that Freeman Hall, named after Douglas Southall Freeman, would be renamed Mitchell-Freeman Hall, to include the name of former editor of the Richmond Planet, John Mitchell Jr., and that Ryland Hall, named after Robert Ryland, would not be renamed.
This email was released almost two years after the Westhampton College Government Association and Richmond College Student Government Association created a joint resolution in 2019 to rename the buildings.
Many speakers at the event, such as Corbin, expressed grievances toward UR and its handling of its history.
“Our statement works to highlight the ways in which the university is continuing in its long racist history instead of learning from its troubled past,” Corbin said during the teach-in. “In order to be center of the Western order of knowledge, it is imperative to listen to the voices from the margins.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on mental health shaped the statement's additional demands, according to the statement. The statement also called for more days off for all students, reconsideration of a credit/no-credit grading option — which was previously rejected by the UR Faculty Senate — and increased access to mental health providers for Black students, including via subsidizing off-campus resources.
Thad Williamson, leadership professor and head of the faculty senate, said to The Collegian on Thursday that he was proud and pleased that students felt empowered to act on issues such as those pertaining to Black students.
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Williamson said the faculty senate was ready to deal with student concerns.
“I think the senate is prepared to listen," Williamson said. "And I'm happy to talk to any student with concerns at all without review or about the university in general and understand that this is a year that people are upset and need to be heard and should be heard."
UR administrators are aware of the statement and protest and are reviewing the concerns raised by students, Cynthia Price, vice president of media and public relations, wrote in an email to The Collegian Thursday.
“We understand and empathize with the hurt and disappointment expressed by our students,” Price wrote.
There was an attendance of more than 300 students, faculty and staff. Several students, including senior Spencer Yacos, expressed annoyance at the UR administration for keeping Freeman and Ryland's names on buildings to contextualize history.
“I was getting pretty frustrated seeing a lot of the faculty and some of my fellow students be okay with Ryland and Freeman’s names remaining up,” Yacos said. “That sort of commemoration, even when it’s contextualized, is still commemoration.
"It felt very good to know I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.”
The coalition will continue hosting teach-ins and pressuring for actions that are supporting and uplifting the Black student experience, Amankwaah said.
News editor Jackie Llanos contributed to reporting.
Contact visual editor Ben Wasserstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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