The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

Student governments launch survey on renaming Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls

<p>Red paint was used to write "Black Lives Matter" on a sign next to the construction site of Ryland Hall between the night of March 22 and morning of March 23.</p>

Red paint was used to write "Black Lives Matter" on a sign next to the construction site of Ryland Hall between the night of March 22 and morning of March 23.

The student governments sent out a survey for students to provide input on the renaming of Ryland and Mitchell-Freeman halls in an email on Jan. 24, three days after the Gallup survey results commissioned by the University of Richmond came out.

The Gallup survey was sent to students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents to provide input to the Naming Principles Commission, which will present its final recommendations to the Board of Trustees and President Kevin Hallock in April, according to the email announcing the results of the Gallup poll.

The results of the student government survey aim to present a student vote for the Board to consider when applying the naming principles in the case of Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman, according to the email sent by the presidents of the Westhampton College Government Association and Richmond College Student Government Association.

“I'm not saying any survey is better or worse, I'm just saying they serve different purposes,” said Anthony Lawrence, senior and president of RCSGA.

The Board established the Commission in May 2021, following protests that sparked after the Board announced its decision to retain the building names. The Commission aims to develop principles to provide consistent guidance for future decisions related to naming and across applications of names, according to its website.

Students never asked for a commission, they asked for the two building names to be removed, said Penny Hu, junior and president of WCGA. While the Gallup survey addresses important issues, it did not necessarily provide the board with straightforward answers on what students think about the specific names, she said. 

The student government survey was designed to take three minutes to complete and will be open until Feb. 6. 

The Commission first sent the Gallup survey to community members on Oct. 18. The survey asked participants questions like how important naming and renaming decisions were to them and how important certain criteria should be in making naming decisions, according to The Collegian

958 students responded to the Gallup survey out of 7,269 participants, according to the report. 

“The Gallup survey was good for the Commission…but this survey specifically is for students, from students,” Hu said.

The results of the student government survey will be presented at the February Board meeting, the student government presidents wrote. They hope it will give Board members concrete data of student opinions, so they can make an informed decision, Lawrence said.

The student government survey asks students to indicate their feelings about keeping the name Ryland on Ryland Hall and Freeman on Mitchell-Freeman Hall. Participants have four options: it should remain, it should be changed, undecided and no opinion.

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It also provides a short answer section asking students what else they want the Board to know about keeping Ryland and Freeman in the building names. The last question asks students to rate the extent to which they agree that there should be a voting student member on the Board.

“That’s a really valuable question that’s being brought up right now because of the unequal representation of students on the Commission,” said Christian Herald, president of the Black Student Alliance.

One of the nine members on the Commission is a student, according to the website. If the Board were to add a student representative to the Board, it would likely be a non-voting member or an observer, Herald said.

“Although I think it would be a great step towards student representation in terms of affairs going on on campus,” she said, “I would actually be surprised if they took us up on that offer.” 

RCSGA and WCGA passed a joint resolution in 2019 insisting that UR change the names of then Ryland and Freeman halls, a request the Board refused to comply with. In November, once UR announced it would create the commission to create guidelines for the naming of buildings, the student governments requested that UR create a neutral interim name for the buildings while the Commission formulated guiding principles and procedures, according to the November resolution.

Student government members passed another resolution on Nov. 17 demanding that UR hold a campus-wide student vote on removing the names of Ryland and Freeman from the buildings and on the Commission’s final recommendations.

The last item on the resolution calls upon the Board to make the results of the student vote count significantly toward the final vote on the passage of the naming principles and the removal of the names of Ryland and Freeman from their respective buildings.

“We want the students to be heard,” Hu said. “We are part of the people on this campus that get affected the most for decisions like that.”

WCGA and RCSGA are currently working on a resolution that mirrors the final survey question, and calls for two student representatives on the Board, Hu said. 

“We also have to recognize that we wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the Board not changing the names to begin with,” Lawrence said.

It’s important for all students to participate to illustrate an accurate idea of what students are thinking, Hu said. Participants are also given an entry for one $100 amazon.com gift card raffle, according to the email. 

“If people are passionate about these names, then they should be able to back that up with the data, and through the voting and through the survey,” Lawrence said. “And that’s gonna show that students don’t want these names or students do want these names.”

Lawrence and Hu also had to think about the risk of what the results are going to show, even the chance of the data being the opposite of what they might expect, Lawrence said.

“If students say, ‘we want these names to remain on the buildings,’ then that’s what we are going to advocate for,” Hu said.

Because the Board is only familiar with those who are most passionate about the renaming and those who they heard from at the listening session, it is important that they understand how all students feel, Hu said. As leaders of the student body, it is their duty to make sure all voices are heard, she said.

“No matter what our opinions are as a human being, we are student representatives and we represent what students want,” Hu said. 

Contact news editor Natasha Sokoloff at natasha.sokoloff@richmond.edu.

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