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Mitchell-Freeman, Ryland names stay, despite student plans for disaffiliation

<p>The building sign for Mitchell-Freeman hall was removed sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Since March 5, blue paint had been placed over the word “Freeman” on the hall’s building sign.</p>

The building sign for Mitchell-Freeman hall was removed sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Since March 5, blue paint had been placed over the word “Freeman” on the hall’s building sign.

The University of Richmond Black Student Coalition is asking students, faculty and staff who support the demands of the Statement on Black Student Welfare to disaffiliate from student organizations, task forces and other extracurricular roles at UR on March 25, in response to a March 17 email from president Ronald Crutcher announcing the names of Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls will not change.

The coalition initially set disaffiliation deadlines of April 1 for seniors and April 15 for non-seniors who signed the statement. The new March 25 deadline, and added request for faculty and staff who signed in support of the statement to disaffiliate, was announced in a statement released by the coalition on March 18.

Letter written by the UR Black Student Coalition in response to president Ronald Crutcher's March 17 email to the community, obtained by The Collegian.

Crutcher’s March 17 announcement, sent to the UR community, was a direct response to the Statement on Black Student Welfare, which the Black Student Coalition released on March 4. The statement’s first demand was that the names of Douglas Southall Freeman and Robert Ryland be removed from their respective buildings. 

“I understand this is not the response that many have called for,” Crutcher wrote. “The Board [of Trustees], University leadership, and I remain committed to ensuring that the history of our campus is thoroughly understood, enlivened, and expanded to reflect the rich diversity of our campus.”

Aside from announcing the buildings would not be renamed, Crutcher wrote that academic accommodations for the current semester would be reconsidered, and UR would not allocate funding for off-campus mental health resources for Black students.

The March 4 statement was released alongside a Google form readers could sign in support of the statement. As of 9 a.m. on March 18, the form had 907 signatures from students, faculty, administrators, staff and other community members. 

Crutcher’s email fell far short of satisfying sophomore TaShira Iverson, who signed the March 4 statement, she said. 

UR has to choose between honoring racist people, such as Freeman and Ryland, and being a welcoming space for Black students, Iverson said.

“It's necessary to talk about,” she said. “It is necessary to unpack it. However, you don't have to do it by honoring them. Because that's creating immortality. That's what it's doing: it's saying that they deserve to be immortal on this campus. And that's a contradiction of what you're choosing to go forward with.

“If you want to create an environment in which Black and brown students feel heard and feel respected, and that their identity is respected, then you wouldn't have those names — you would have the discussion.”

Crutcher’s email referred students to a statement from the Board of Trustees, also released on March 17, that stated changing the names of Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls would be “inconsistent” with the educational mission of UR.

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“We recognize that we still have important work to do to become the truly inclusive community we aspire to be,” the Board wrote. “We also understand the disappointment and hurt associated with our decision regarding the names of Ryland Hall and Mitchell-Freeman Hall.”  

mitchell freeman signage, mini

The miniature signage surrounding Mitchell-Freeman hall remains, with the word "Freeman" blocked out with blue paint.

Later in the statement, the Board wrote: “In numerous conversations, the Board gave careful consideration to the question raised by the student governments of removing Ryland’s and Freeman’s names from the buildings on our campus. We believe, however, that removing building names is inconsistent with the pursuit of our educational mission, which informs all of our actions.”

To sophomore Justin Butler, who signed the March 4 statement, the Board of Trustees’ March 17 announcement provoked more anger than Crutcher’s email. The board's argument paralleled arguments used to justify Confederate statues, he said.

“The reason is so stupid, you know, ‘to encourage the education,’” Butler said. “You don't need to commemorate somebody for that.”

The Black Student Coalition released the Statement on Black Student Welfare the week after Crutcher announced that Ryland Hall would not be renamed and that the building formerly known as Freeman Hall would be renamed to Mitchell-Freeman Hall, honoring former Richmond Planet editor John Mitchell Jr. 

The announcement came two years after the Richmond College Student Government Association and Westhampton Student Government Association released a joint resolution calling for the two halls to be renamed because of Ryland and Freeman’s links to racism and slavery.

Butler said that, initially, the Mitchell-Freeman Hall name change had not emotionally affected him. But he gained a new perspective on the decision after attending a March 9 Interpoint discussion about the decision, during which a comparison was drawn between attaching the name of a Holocaust victim to a the name of a Nazi, he said.

“It's so disrespectful attaching that, as if it's an honor to be a part of the building commemorated to the person who was your persecutor,” Butler said. “That's not an honor at all. That is a tragedy.”

The Statement on Black Student Welfare also demanded a revote by the University Faculty Senate to allow students to elect to take one class on a credit/no-credit basis, meaning they would pass the class if they earn a grade above D-. The Faculty Senate rejected a proposal for this credit/no-credit option earlier this semester. 

The Faculty Senate will meet on March 19 to reconsider the credit/no-credit proposal, Crutcher wrote in the March 17 email. 

The statement also called for more days off if traditional multi-day breaks must be canceled in future semesters. Crutcher did not address this demand in his email.   

Iverson thought the announcement of the expansion of the Multicultural Space and Well 100 class about UR was dismissive of students’ demands.

The Multicultural Space will be expanded as a Multicultural Center that will house an LGBTQ+ lounge and office space for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground and the Race and Racism Project, Crutcher wrote.

“[The administration] said that it was not worth their time,” Iverson said. “They said in a very clear manner, ‘We have [The Multicultural Space, Well 100 course and Counseling and Psychological Services], so why should you be complaining?’

“And that sets a very clear precedent for how I'm seen on this campus — as not important enough. My needs aren't urgent.”

The statement also demanded UR provide funds for Black students to receive mental health help off campus, citing statistics about white college students being more likely than Black college students to receive mental health support. The statement noted that Counseling and Psychological Services has two Black staff therapists, which it stated was insufficient to meet demand.

CAPS can meet the needs of all students, Crutcher wrote in the March 17 email. 

“Counseling and Psychological Services has assured me that our counselors have the capacity to actively and effectively support all our students and have worked with a special sense of urgency to respond to this need over the past 18 months,” he wrote.

Iverson thought Crutcher’s statement about CAPS was dismissive and implied that the students who wrote the statement did not know what they were talking about, Iverson said.

“The truth of the matter is that it’s resting on two Black women,” Iverson said. “That's what it is. They're the hub for Black students to come to, and thank God that we have them, but it's just not enough.”

On March 15, 220 staff and faculty sent a letter in support of the demands made by the Black Student Coalition to Crutcher and other members of the UR administration and faculty, according to a March 17 email from psychology professor Jane Berry and university professor Kathleen Skerrett, sent after Crutcher’s March 17 announcement to the 100 original signers of the Statement on Black Student Welfare. A copy of Berry and Skerrett's email was later obtained by The Collegian. 

Letter written by faculty and staff on March 15 urging the UR administration to listen to the demands made by UR Black Student Coalition, obtained by The Collegian. This letter was written before Crutcher's March 17 announcement. 

“The pandemic has created an unprecedented environment where we must respond together to  novel crises while remaining physically distanced from each other,” the letter stated. “Resilience is made possible by mutual respect and mutual reliance. This, as we have seen, has been our most excellent resource in meeting the pandemic.

“Black student leaders call upon that respect and reliance now. They, and we, ask you to reconsider decisions and to adjust with resilience. We respectfully ask you to give urgent attention to their demands, and to find pathways ready to meet them in the heart of our shared mission and goals.”

The letter was addressed to Crutcher; Steve Bisese, vice president for Student Development; members of the Faculty Senate; Ann Lloyd Breeden, vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees; and Amy Howard, senior administrative officer for Equity Community, according to the copy of the letter in Berry and Skerrett's email.

Contact news editor Jackie Llanos at jackie.llanos@richmond.edu.

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