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“We failed you:” Naming Principles Commission apologizes to students after listening session

<p>A view of Boatwright Memorial Library from behind Ryland Hall.</p>

A view of Boatwright Memorial Library from behind Ryland Hall.

The University of Richmond Naming Principles Commission issued an apology to students after a member of the Board of Trustees brought a student to tears during a listening session on Thursday afternoon. The incident began when a discussion about renaming turned into an argument about controversial remarks made by Rector Paul Queally last year.

When first-year student Christian Herald acknowledged the absence of Queally at the virtual meeting attended by 21 students and four Board members, she brought up statements made by Queally in which he referenced “Black, Brown and ‘regular students’” and remarked that Queally had a “very clear history of racism.” 

Board member and Commission co-chair John Roush responded, “That is a misrepresentation of what is in this person's heart. What he might have said in the heat of a moment -- if you will -- should not be considered the body of who he is”

Roush and students also disagreed about the weight of the student body’s input on the decision to rename Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls and to establish principles for naming buildings in the future.

“A college or university is not just about the students,” he said, sparking an uproar from students in the Zoom chat. 

The University Faculty Senate is considering the possibility of censure as a next step after members gather more information about the meeting, according to a Nov. 19 statement written by the Faculty Senate that was shared with The Collegian by Mary Tate, a law professor and Faculty Senate President.

“​​The University Faculty Senate is deeply concerned by what we have heard,” Faculty Senate members wrote.

Several students became visibly upset and voiced their frustrations in the chat after hearing Roush’s defense of Queally. 

“You can’t agree to disagree on racism,” senior Zena Abro wrote in the chat on Zoom. 

Despite the response Queally received regarding his statements last spring, he did not issue an apology. Noah Goldberg, senior and member of the Richmond College Student Government Association, questioned Roush about why Queally had not apologized.

“Well, I don’t know if he’s been asked to apologize, I have not asked him to,” Roush responded.

Herald then mentioned the community response that followed Queally’s comments last year to the attendees.

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“There was outrage when he made those comments,” she said. “He could have had many opportunities to redeem himself, and he has not taken any of them.”

Roush responded, “You’ve decided what you want to hear, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve simply come to know [Queally] as being more than a comment you picked out of thin air and want to use that to define everything about it. That’s not right.”

Julietta Singh, an associate professor and the Commission’s faculty representative, interrupted Roush after this remark and tried to redirect the conversation away from Queally’s character and toward the question of his absence. 

“I think he was smart not to get involved with these calls,” Roush said. 

After Roush finished his thought, Herald unmuted and announced she had to leave the meeting. She gave some final remarks, in tears. 

“I have never been so blatantly disrespected in my entire life,” Herald said. “For you to sit here and tell me that this man's racist actions that he was saying about people who look like me are a misplacement of heart is just absolutely ridiculous. It is so evident that you do not care about the voices of Black students.”

Georgia Nugent, a Board member who co-chaired and serves on the Commission, said that the Board would be starkly confronted by the evidence found by the Gallup poll sent to students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents to inform how UR addresses naming conventions and decision making. 

Students expressed frustrations during the session about whose opinions the Commission has been prioritizing. 

“For some reason, the opinions of alumni who are thousands of miles away, but keep sending their dollars back, are more important on this issue,” Herald said before she had signed off from the call.

Nugent said that the voices of students were important, but they did not represent the whole community -- a remark that aligned with Roush’s statement that UR is not just about the students. 

“There are differing views and experiences among the entire Richmond community,” Nugent said. “So the current students are a large and very significant part of the Richmond community, but they are not the whole of it. There are thousands of other alumni and affiliated persons.”

Some members of the UR community have expressed the desire for a temporary name change to Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman until the Commission establishes its principles for renaming. Some students have suggested naming the buildings after non-controversial things such as colors or emotions, Goldberg said. He used “Passion Hall” as an example of what students had discussed. 

Nugent turned down the idea of a placeholder name because it would signal that a decision has been made, she said. 

Several students have fought to rename the buildings. Ryan Doherty, a first-year student and member of the Black Student Coalition, feared that the Commission members had already made up their minds about not renaming the buildings at all. Nugent’s comments about determining what can be considered neutral worsened these fears, Doherty said.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,''  Doherty said. “I want to make that very, very clear. So every board member in this room right now who voted to keep these names up, you are the oppressor. You have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

Doherty asked Board members whether they voted to keep the names on the buildings. Roush and Nugent, who chose the members of the Commission along with former UR president Ronald Crutcher last year, said they voted to keep the names. 

Wendell Taylor, the only Black member of the Board and a member of the Commission, also attended the meeting. He originally voted to keep the names because he believed it was the best way to be honest about UR’s negative history, he said.

“Once I heard more, I understood why there were other ways that we could be honest about our history while removing the name Ryland,” Taylor said. “That resonated with me, and, at that point, I did whatever I could to get the names down immediately.”

Conversations about renaming will continue among members of the community. 

A day after the listening session, members of the Commission sent the email apologizing to students. 

“During yesterday’s meeting with students in particular, we failed you,” members wrote. “Some of the things that were said caused harm. That was never our intent, and for that we are very sorry. We heard you very clearly across our multiple student sessions, and your views matter greatly.

“As we continue our work, we are individually and collectively taking time to process what you’ve said, where we’ve fallen short, and how we can build trust.”

The Commission will contact students in the coming days with an invitation to participate in a private meeting with Singh and senior Jordyn Lofton, the student representative to the Commission, for a conversation to shape naming principles as the Commission’s work moves forward, according to the Nov. 19 email. 

Contact contributor Kathryn Kimmel at kathryn.kimmel@richmond.edu

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