Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
Have you ever been asked, “If this college thing works out, what do you plan on doing?”
In the early afternoon of Monday, Dec. 13, one of my own professors from the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business questioned my intellect when I turned in the final exam for his course. The following twenty-minute exchange I had was quite troubling.
While discrimination and a lack of student care is a rampant and historically known occurrence at the University of Richmond, this incident was particularly concerning because of how lackadaisical and crude the professor's tone presented.
Near the beginning of the conversation that he initiated, he repeatedly asked me if I was a “Robins School of Business” major even though I clearly communicated several times that I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in international business —a concentration that I have nearly completed — and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.
“Are you sure that you’re a Robins School of Business major?” he asked. “Are you not just taking this class to learn some [subject of the class]?”
No, I was decidedly not just taking [subject of the class] for the fun of it. Please bear in mind that over the past few months, I have told him in person that I am a B-school major. While I am not what a typical business major at UR looks like, I am still a business major nonetheless.
He then asked me my GPA, and when I told him, he condescendingly asked, “A 3.5…are you sure?” When I verbally confirmed it he kept pushing and said, “That is very hard to believe.”
I spoke up about this incident because I cannot allow myself to stay silent about the unfair treatment and disrespect that is taking place in a community that I am directly a part of. I hold myself to that standard and I expect the university’s administration to do the same. I expect my professors to do the same.
I am used to being spoken down upon and considered less than due to my identities. These degrading experiences should not be normalized. If UR is committed to institutional reform, administration and the board of trustees must address and take direct action against patterns of the dehumanizing practices that students at UR face. Whether that be in the form of gender prejudice, racial discrimination or the business community not fostering a safe community for its LGBTQ+ students, these patterns mirror a much larger issue that we face as a nation, one that undermines the abilities and talents of women, of minorities and those of the LGBTQ+ communities.
As President Hallock recently stated in an email to address the overtly racist video involving Kap Sig fraternity members, we as a community must seek “to treat each other with dignity and respect; to be self-aware and realize that our words and our behavior have the power to impact others; and to work together and build a community of care, well-being, and belonging, where all of our members feel safe, valued, and respected.
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The comments the professor made not only lacked social refinement, it directly goes against the values that UR claims to hold dear.
I was raised in oppressive spaces. I developed in such spheres and I do not intend to lead a future where my intersecting identities are overtly challenged by the very same people who have claimed to support students and value their perspectives. I did not feel comfortable meeting with the professor virtually or physically after previously doing so on several occasions at the beginning of the school year because it was made obvious in class that he did not care about students like me compared to my counterparts.
Discrimination, especially at institutions like UR, has many faces. They are typically not as overt as the incident on Dec. 13 proved to be. It can be the smaller things too.
During the exchange, he asked if I had considered transferring schools, implying that I was not worthy of being at UR, much less the business school.
While the professor should not have uttered any of the disparaging comments he shared, he picked the wrong person to tell them to. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez stated in her address to Rep. Ted Yoho on the house floor in July of 2020, this issue is not just about one incident. It is cultural. The subjugation of women and of identities that are not traditional is in fact cultural. It is about what treatment we are willing to accept as a university. So long as the business school is willing to continue allowing such rampant abuses of power and privilege to take place in my school community and in exchanges with students, more incidents like this will occur.
I am not only a student here at the University of Richmond. I am a godmother to a beautiful 12-year old girl. I am someone’s child. I am a leader in the environmental justice community. I am an advocate to frontline communities facing the worst impacts of climate change — those of who are disregarded to such a high degree because of the way they look.
I will not allow a man fifty years my senior to disrespect me. Even with all of his awards, accolades, presentations and charm, I will not allow anyone to legitimize this type of problematic behavior. Not the business school, not the professor and not UR as a whole.
Success does not measure up to the number of awards or accolades one receives over their lifetime. I do not believe that it even equates to the number of years one engages in their profession. I think it all boils down to an individual’s character.
Being someone is all you need to be treated with respect and dignity. An individual does not need to be white, male, straight or cisgender to be worthy of human decency at the business school.
A change needs to be made in our community. An institutional reckoning must take place in order to transform the way that interactions are had at UR. Shape up or ship out, Robins School of Business, for the future of academia is upon us.
Contact contributor McKenna Dunbar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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