The Collegian
Monday, October 18, 2021

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UPDATED: UR alumni express support for the Black Student Coalition

<p>Campaign signs and workers assemble at the entrance to the Jepson Alumni Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3.&nbsp;</p>

Campaign signs and workers assemble at the entrance to the Jepson Alumni Center on Tuesday, Nov. 3. 

University of Richmond alumni who support the UR Black Student Coalition's demands expressed disappointment in the recent communications and rhetoric from the Board of Trustees.

Alumni have shown support by contacting the administration, being vocal on social media and announcing that they were not going to donate on UR Giving Day, prior to UR's April 5 decision to pause the event, Christopher Wiggins, UR '03, said in an interview with The Collegian.

In a March 26 poll featured on the UR Alumni Facebook page, Wiggins said he posed the question, "Should UR change the names that carry the names of slavery figures Freeman and Ryland?" The results, as of April 6, showed 609 alumni voted yes and 117 voted no. 

A second Facebook group, UR Alumni: No Donations Until the Names Change, was created on March 19 and has 302 followers. 

"We feel like, in addition to withholding donations, creating more visibility to this issue is the other recourse we have in getting the attention of the Board to support the students, faculty and staff that wish to have the names changed," Wiggins said.

Some members of the group had graphics created to raise awareness for BSC's goals on social media, Wiggins said. The creator of the graphics has chosen to remain anonymous.

Wiggins does not think that history will look back favorably on UR's reluctance to change the names, he said. 

"It seems as though the change is going to be inevitable, but the memory of what's happening now, 10 years from now, will not be a positive one," he said. 

Elizabeth Francey, UR '88, has been frustrated in UR's lack of communication with alumni regarding recent campus climate, she said. Francey's daughter is a current UR freshman.

"That lack of transparency is highly concerning and remains a concern that has not been answered by any of the communications we have had, because none of them have been sent to the alumni directly, nor to the parents of the students," she said. 

In a March 17 statement, the Board of Trustees wrote to the members of the UR community, "We believe, however, that removing building names is inconsistent with the pursuit of our educational mission, which informs all of our actions.”

Francey sees the Board's statements regarding the name changes as a step back for UR, she said. 

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"The issue itself is so intrinsically linked to what Dr. Crutcher's been talking about in the communications we have had over the last few years as to the strategic vision of the university and how important diversity and inclusion was to our forward direction," she said. "Those statements are seemingly at odds with the direction the Board took on the naming." 

Francey was glad the Board put out an updated statement on April 5, but she was unimpressed at the way they addressed Rector Paul Queally's comments from the March 26 meeting, she said. 

"It seems to say that they stand with [Queally] and that we all misconstrued what he said, but they do not deny his comments," she said. "As a parent and an alumni, I'm concerned that any student is on a campus where there are three types of students – 'Black, Brown and regular.'" 

The group UR Alumni for Change commissioned a 10-question survey from April 9 to April 19 titled "UR Alumni Survey on Recent Campus Controversy." 

The first question asked what alumni thought should be done about Queally's actions at the March 26 meeting. 

Of the 956 responses, 58.68% voted that Queally should be completely removed from the Board; 19.56% voted that he should resign from the Board; 5.86% voted that he should step down as Rector, but remain on the Board; 11.92% voted nothing, censure and the no confidence are enough; and 3.97% voted an "other" option. 

Another question asked responders to rate their agreement with the statement "Racism is a problem at the University of Richmond." 

Of the 955 responses, 43.14% voted "strongly agree," 21.88% voted "mostly agree," 13.09% voted "somewhat agree," 9.74% voted "no opinion," 3.66% voted "somewhat disagree," 3.87% voted "mostly disagree," and 4.61% voted
strongly disagree." 

Godfrey Plata, UR '06, has been keeping up with updates on the BSC and the Board's statements through alumni groups that function over email, Facebook messenger and Instagram direct messaging, he said. 

"I have not seen alums so actively enraged in a long time," Plata said. "I really credit the students, faculty and staff for building the megaphone that they have so that we're aware of this particular issue." 

As of April 21, 960 alumni have signed a petition titled "Change the Names of Ryland and Freeman Hall at the University of Richmond" that was created by Ross Abrash, UR '20.

"Fellow alumni: The names of the buildings where students live and learn have meaning, weight, and value," Abrash wrote in the petition details. "We can remember our history without continuing to venerate people whose publicly held beliefs and values run counter to who we want to be as a University." 

Plata disagrees with the Board and sees removing Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman's names from campus buildings as an action in line with UR's educational mission, he said. 

"For me, in this moment in the university's history, there's no greater way to live into the university's values as a place for equity, inclusivity and ethics, than to respond with those values," Plata said. "We can name that the history upon which the university has built itself is problematic. 

"President Crutcher and the Trustees have been saying, 'We need to acknowledge our history,' and I think there's no greater way to acknowledge our history than to resist how history can continue to traumatize Black people and other people of color in this country. We have this choice right now, and I think it's really astounding to me the level of ego that is driving the response to a request to change the names of two buildings." 

The campus culture of activism has changed since his time at UR, but the Board's priorities have not, Plata said. 

"I'm super proud of how students have really been able to use this moment and build their momentum and organize," Plata said. "That is not the university that I attended between 2002 and 2006. Clearly, one of the things that hasn't changed is the money and power that the university is dependent on to be able to do its work." 

Contact managing editor Meredith Moran at meredith.moran@richmond.edu.

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