Editors note: Shira Greer is a Collegian editor. This article was updated to add information about the Faculty Senate vote, which was not unanimous.
The University of Richmond Faculty Senate voted in a March 19 meeting to offer a credit/no credit option for students in the spring 2021 semester and to adopt a statement in which they call for the removal of Douglas Southall Freeman and Robert Ryland's names from the buildings named after them.
Students can now elect to take one course credit/no credit, which means the class grade will not be included in their GPA and will instead be marked as pass/fail. A grade above a D- counts as a pass, according to UR's grading policies.
The credit/no credit proposal was rejected earlier this semester but was reconsidered after the UR Black Student Coalition released its Statement on Black Student Welfare on March 4, which listed a revote on the proposal and the renaming of Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls as two of its demands.
After the Friday meeting, Williamson sent the "Statement of University of Richmond Faculty Senate on Institutional History" in an email to The Collegian.
The Faculty Senate supports removing Freeman and Ryland's names from the halls as a step toward creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for the campus community, according to the statement sent to The Collegian. The faculty senate also wrote that the UR community should have been given more time to discuss the possibility of renaming before the decision by UR president Ronald Crutcher and the Board of Trustees was finalized.
"In short, the issue of the building names has become a stumbling block to the hard work ahead to meet our goals and aspirations as a university community," the Faculty Senate wrote. "Indeed, for some students, it has raised the existential question of whether the university cares about them or people like them. And that is a question no college student in 2021 should ever have to ask about their institution."
The statement from the Faculty Senate concluded in a call to the Board of Trustees to listen to the students, staff and faculty who have raised issue with the naming of the halls.
"We in no way support erasing history, and we applaud the superb efforts of so many colleagues to bring this challenging history to the fore and begin the work of educating our campus about our past," the Faculty Senate wrote. "But we also see that there is no necessary connection between recognizing and learning from this history and continuing to keep the names of persons who represent the antithesis of what our campus community aspires to be on the buildings we use every day."
Faculty Senate members, including political science professors Jennifer Bowie and Stephen Long, psychology professor Karen Kochel, classical studies professor Julie Laskaris and program chair of non-profit studies Andrew Schoeneman, signed the petition in support of the Statement on Black Student Welfare. Schoeneman is on the senate's executive committee.
Before the Friday senate meeting, 220 faculty and staff signed a letter regarding the UR Black Student Coalition's list of demands, asking the Faculty Senate to vote in support of the credit/no credit option and calling for the Board of Trustees and Crutcher to reconsider the decision on the naming of Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls.
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The letter was sent on March 15 to members of the Faculty Senate; Crutcher; Steve Bisese, vice president for Student Development; Ann Lloyd Breeden, vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees and Amy Howard, senior administrative officer for Equity Community.
Students must decide whether to take a course credit/no credit by 5 p.m. on April 15, Williamson said in the meeting. Professors will not be made aware of a student's decision to take a course credit/no credit, he said.
"In this unprecedented time wrought by the pandemic, we need to be responsive to the extreme pressures students are experiencing," Mary Tate, law professor and member of the faculty senate, wrote in a statement to The Collegian on March 19.
The credit/no credit option passed on a voice vote, Williamson wrote in an email to The Collegian. It was not unanimous but did pass with overwhelming support, he wrote.
Dean of Westhampton College Mia Reinoso Genoni, who also signed the petition, spoke in favor of the credit/no credit proposal to the senate prior to the vote. She spoke on behalf of all the deans of Richmond and Westhampton colleges, she said.
"[Students] are coming to us asking for guidance and asking for help," Genoni said in the meeting. "Providing the option for one course to be taken in a credit mode, as many of our peer institutions have done, will provide one important measure of critical health during this time. Not every student will choose to take advantage of this option for myriad reasons, but every one of them deserves a chance to make the choice that is right for them."
Other peer institutions that have adopted similar credit/no credit options include Middlebury College, Oberlin and Smith College, which junior Shira Greer referenced when she spoke to the senate in favor of passing the proposal.
"Individual professors have been very accommodating and have been working with students, but, ultimately, when we have this policy where it's up to students to advocate for themselves, it's just increased stress on them," Greer said. "It would be more effective to have a blanket policy where students don't have this extra burden of advocating for themselves on top of their coursework, and also, that would account for differences in how individual prospective professors respond as well.
"Ultimately we're asking for [credit/no credit] to allow students to thrive and not reach a breaking point which forces them into burnout, like so many students have. We're trying to prevent this at all costs."
Senior Kayla Corbin also urged the senate to pass the proposal, and spoke on behalf of the Black Student Coalition, she said.
She attributed last spring's credit/no credit option as a reason why she will be attending a doctorate program at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall. She was so passionate about the credit/no credit option being passed that she missed the colloquium for her welcome meeting at UNC to attend the senate meeting and speak in favor of the proposal, she said.
"We are asking for compassion," Corbin said. "We are asking for something that seems like the simple thing to do. It's the right thing to do. We have given the facts. We've been to multiple faculty discussions, we've had other faculty come and give similar facts. And to all the reasonings as to why there would be a no vote today, I would just like to say on behalf of all students, we are depending on faculty, one more time.
"We're giving you the opportunity, for everybody, but specifically for students like me, who, without that credit/no credit option, I might not have had the future and the opportunities that I'm having now to continue my education."
Junior Zena Abro attended the senate meeting as a listener.
"I think [credit/no credit] is really important, especially regarding students' mental health," Abro said. "I was struggling so much trying to keep up with my work and social justice, being on campus or off campus in the greater community, so it is really relieving to hear that we have this option now."
Contact news writer Meredith Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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