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Naming Principles Commission to hold first meeting this month

<p>Ryland hall under construction in September 2020</p>

Ryland hall under construction in September 2020

The University of Richmond announced in a July 29 email addressed to the UR community that the Naming Principles Commission, which was established in May following calls to rename Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls, will hold its first meeting in August to establish its work plan. 

The email was signed by the co-chairs of the commission, Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, and John Roush, a member of the Board of Trustees. The commission, which will meet regularly after its initial August meeting, has nine members and is made up of faculty, staff, student, alumni and representatives from the board. 

"A key element of our work will be to ensure robust opportunities for the University community to provide its perspectives to inform the Commission’s recommendations," Coleman and Roush wrote. 

UR will also create a survey for faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents to voice their opinions, according to the email. The survey will be conducted by Gallup, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm. The survey process is expected to begin in September and will conclude by the end of the semester, according to the email. 

Members of the UR community will be contacted by Gallup to participate in the survey, and the results will be made public in the spring semester, the email stated. 

Richmond College Government Student Association president Anthony Lawrence sees the commission as a step in the right direction and has hope for progress, he wrote in an August 3 email to The Collegian. 

“I agree with the public survey method because it takes the entirety of students voices to be heard on this issue," Lawrence wrote. "At the same time, it is paramount that the survey is made known to everyone well in advance so as many stakeholders as possible can access it. By this, I suggest QR codes throughout campus and a healthy marketing campaign."

While optimistic, Lawrence is hesitant about the committee process, as UR has been slow to move on important issues in the past, he wrote. 

"I recall many initiatives that have been stifled by the cycle of committee creation after committee creation at the university," Lawrence wrote. "Namely, the free-speech statement, which was four years in the making by Alec Greven [UR] ’21. This timeline has a faster turnaround period, and it is up to the findings of the commission that determine how much UR cares about its students of color."

The commission needs to make sure it has adequate input before finalizing a decision on renaming, Lawrence wrote in the email. 

"This circumstance deserves a slow and methodical technique because it is such a polarizing issue that has attached itself to many hearts and garnered much recognition," he wrote. "The POC communities have seen it before — about 18 months ago after students of color had racial slurs written on their dorms — when discussions were had and not much tangible change came out of them. 

"Partially because of COVID-19, but as a person of color, I would be lying if I told you that I expected the university to do something after the discussions, but I was hopeful. The commission must heed that example and not let history repeat itself, because that would compound the lack of trust the POC community has in the university."

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The commission plans to sponsor sessions for members of the community to learn about other institutions' decisions regarding naming principles and issues, including an event in September facilitated by Commission Special Adviser Ed Ayers, according to the July 29 email. 

"We will provide additional information as plans for that event are finalized, and we look forward to a substantive, valuable dialogue with colleagues from other campuses and members of our University community as we work together to identify the principles most appropriate to the University of Richmond," the email stated. 

In the meantime, members of the UR community can contact the commission through the Office of the President's page on UR's website. 

"The commission still leaves the university with a question, how much longer must people of color continue to have to fight to feel at home at this university?" Lawrence wrote. "How much longer do the specific and unique needs of students of color go unfulfilled? They were able to erect a sign of an enslaved man’s name next to an enslaver’s rather quickly, I just hope they can erect the name of a prominent Black individual just as fast, and if not, faster.”

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

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