Editor's note: This article has been updated.
The University of Richmond’s only Black member of the Board of Trustees said students may need to resort to protests and other “radical solutions” to change the names of two buildings on campus.
The trustee, Wendell Taylor, spoke during a meeting with students and the Richmond Student Government Association Wednesday evening. He said he is confident that the names of Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls will be changed.
Taylor was vocal at the Naming Principles Commission’s listening session on Nov. 18 when John Roush, a trustee and Commission member, made comments to a student that resulted in the Commission issuing an apology. His comments also led the Commission’s faculty representative Julietta Singh to call for his resignation.
Taylor said that the Board had failed to connect with students and explained his position on the renaming issue.
“I think it's a self-inflicted wound by the Board to leave the names up,” Taylor said. “I feel like we know enough to change the names now.”
Taylor originally voted to keep the buildings named after Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman because he thought it was important for students coming to UR to understand and face the negative parts of its history, he said.
“I also thought that when Dr. [Ronald] Crutcher came up with a solution it had been shopped around campus,” Taylor said. “When I found out that that had not been the case, I quickly changed my view.”
At that point last spring, Taylor presented a motion to the Board to remove the names immediately, but no one seconded his motion and it could not be voted on, he said.
“I was hurt,” Taylor said. “I was furious. I was angry. I really considered resigning from the Board.”
Both Taylor and the Commission’s student representative, Jordyn Lofton, expressed that members of the Board had not known how passionate and angry students have been about renaming until the Nov. 18 listening session.
“They felt challenged by [the students],”she said, describing how Commission members felt after the listening session. “They can’t be invisible anymore.”
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Lofton said the Nov. 18 meeting was a wake up call.
“They had no idea I berated them on national television last semester,” Lofton said referring to statements she made while being interviewed on ABC 8News in April. “They had no idea about the protests and stuff that we all did last semester.”
First-year students Bezawit Mulatu and Ryan Doherty expressed concern after hearing Lofton’s comments.
“Do we need to protest in front of their houses to get their attention?” Mulatu asked. “If being on TV won’t catch their attention what will?”
Doherty added, “These are the people making the decisions at the school, and they don’t even know what’s happening on campus.”
Taylor said he sympathized with students who feel that Board members will not listen to them, adding that he told Trustees that they needed to become more involved and meet with students.
“I feel like the Board, and people have said this, the Board is out of touch,” Taylor said. “So more members of the Board need to do stuff like this, and that’s why I’m here.”
Several students brought up concerns about the lack of student representation in the decision-making process about renaming.
Taylor encouraged students to use existing channels of communication with the Board, such as speaking with individual committees and the student representatives that serve on them.
“Most of what is done on the Board is done through committees,” Taylor said. “That's where the action is really done.”
Other students, like RCSGA Senator Noah Goldberg, asked Taylor whether students could do anything to speed up the renaming process before the Board votes in May.
“The best way now is through committees,” Taylor said. “But, if there are other radical solutions that students can think of through protesting or otherwise, you know, you might need to do those.”
Lofton seconded Taylor’s comments: “I agree with Wendell that protest works, grassroots works.”
Lofton encouraged students who would like to voice their concerns about the naming decision to attend a meeting next Tuesday with Lofton and Singh. The exact time and location of the meeting will be featured in Spiderbytes, Lofton said.
At the end of the meeting, RCSGA President Anthony Lawrence announced that he would be meeting with part of the Board of Trustees Thursday with the Student Development Committee.
Contact contributor Kathryn Kimmel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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