Editor’s note: Kristen Starks and Shira Greer are Collegian editors. This article contains expletive language.
Students, faculty and staff marched at noon on April 7 from the University Forum to the intramural fields in support of the University of Richmond Black Student Coalition’s demands outlined in the Statement on Black Student Welfare carrying signs that read statements such as “Protect our Web,” “Listen to Black Students” and “Change the Names.”
UR community members marched toward the Queally Center, where Kristen Starks, a junior and member of the BSC read the expanded demands of the coalition. When the statement was released on March 4, the BSC called for UR to meet three demands: rename Mitchell-Freeman and Ryland halls, citing Douglas Southall Freeman and Robert Ryland’s involvement in segregation and slavery; expand academic accommodations for students because of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide funding for off-campus mental health services for Black students.
Following the March 26 meeting between the BSC and members of the Board of Trustees, the BSC released an addendum to its statement on April 2 listing three more demands for the Board. Students asked that the Board stop the plan to name a terrace adjoining Ryland Hall after one or multiple of the persons Robert Ryland enslaved, begin the hiring process for an endowed chair of the Africana studies program in fall 2021 and make a plan to expand the Multicultural Student Space into its own building.
After Starks read the demands, the march continued onto the intramural fields, where members of the BSC shared remarks about the demands, recited original poetry and rapped.
“The anger will not leave us until we get what we want,” Anthony Lawrence said to the crowd. Lawrence is a junior and president of the Richmond College Student Government Association.
“We are united,” he said. “We are strong.”
AJ Polcari, senior and former president of RCSGA, pointed out UR’s apathetic reputation in his speech.
“You are a part of history at this university,” Polcari said. “We're not known for protesting much. … but today we're saying a hell of a lot.”
The student demand to remove the names of Freeman and Ryland started in 2019 when RCSGA and the Westhampton College Government Association passed a joint resolution calling for the name change. Polcari, who co-wrote the resolution, called out the lack of transparency in the Board’s renaming decision.
“We were told that we would meet with the Board,” Polcari said. “We were told that we would have transparency. We did not have that, and it shows that the Board of Trustees would rather make decisions behind closed doors than actually talk to students. We don't work for them, they work for us.”
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The Board’s renaming decision has since been suspended to allow for more time to review options for a broader process to determine how renaming decisions are made, the Board wrote in an April 5 statement sent to the University Faculty Senate. The email was later shared with the UR community.
Prior to the suspension of the renaming decision, the Faculty Senate unanimously voted on April 2 to censure Rector Paul Queally, citing his behavior at the March 26 meeting with members of the Faculty Senate and staff.
At the meeting, Queally was disrespectful to UR employees and referred to non Black or brown students as ‘regular students,’ according to a written motion shared during the April 2 Faculty Senate meeting in which the vote to censure Queally was taken.
In the Board’s April 5 statement announcing the suspension of the renaming decision, the other trustees who were at the March 26 meeting — R. Lewis Boggs, Jeff Brown and Susan Quisenberry — disagreed with the characterization of Queally’s statement.
“The Trustees in attendance at those meetings strongly disagree with the characterization of Rector Paul Queally’s words, tone, and intent,” the Board wrote. “The conversations were candid and passionate but in the spirit of mutual respect. We are saddened, but hear clearly, that some parties interpreted certain comments as disrespectful.”
The Collegian has not been able to reach the Board for comment about the March 26 meetings or the April 5 statement.
Tanja Softic, chair of the department of art and art history, felt outraged by the Board’s email, she said.
“If they thought that they were going to calm something down, this was a gross miscalculation,” she said. “I mean, they have just offended us further.”
Kayla Corbin, senior and member of the BSC, emphasized the power students hold at UR during her speech.
“We thought we weren't going to get a credit/no credit; as a community, we made that happen,” Corbin said. “They told us that [Counseling and Psychological Services] was enough, now we are in conversations to get additional mental health services, not just for Black students, but for everybody on campus. We made that happen.
“They told us there would never, and I'm quoting this directly out of admin’s mouths, be an Africana studies program on this campus. We made that happen. And they think we are going to drag our feet and wait for a standalone multicultural building. They think we are going to drag our feet and let a racist, homophobic, transphobic, ignorant person … sit at the helm of this institution and dictate to us what's going to happen.”
Corbin referenced when the Faculty Senate approved a credit/no credit proposal on March 19 that allows students to take one class marked as pass/fail for the spring 2021 semester as long as they receive a grade above a D-. The proposal was rejected on Jan. 22, but was reconsidered after the Statement on Black Student Welfare was released.
Corbin, along with senior TJ Tann and juniors Akeya Fortson-Brown, Shira Greer and Miquell Shaw, initiated the Africana studies program proposal, which will become available to students in 2022. Corbin mentioned discouraging comments from administration in a Collegian article published on March 19.
Following the student-speakers’ remarks, attendees were encouraged to leave messages on several posters laid on the ground of the intramural fields. Messages written on the posters included “We built this community,” “Enough is enough” and “Fuck you Paul Queally,” among others.
First-year Jordann Carter attended the demonstration to come together with the student body, she said.
“I feel like it was particularly important, especially as a student of color, a Black student, to just come out and make sure our voices are heard,” Carter said. “Make sure all the demands are met, because it's very tiring to see countless people join movements such as these, then no action takes place.”
The protest was scheduled on the same day as UR’s 2021 Giving Day, UR Here. However, the Giving Day website made an announcement on April 6 that the fundraising event would be paused. Although the website did not state a reason for the pause, the BSC called for the UR community to not donate to Giving Day on March 29, according to an Instagram post.
Softic, who said she had never been prouder of her students during her 22-year career at UR, thought it was the right decision to pause Giving Day, she said.
“I think the university has brought it onto itself,” she said. “I am sad to see that there will be no contributions and sad to seize my contributions to the university, but I'm not going to contribute until I see improvement. I want to see a new way of choosing the trustees.”
Corbin thanked attendees of the event and reinstated the BSC’s commitment to the demands, she said.
“We will continue to protect this web because this is our house,” Corbin said.
Contact investigative and multimedia editor Jackie Llanos at email@example.com.
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