Research Challenges

By Jennifer Munnings

One thing is for certain when digging through history, you never know what you’re going to find. When I came to the University of Richmond, I was conscious of the fact that I was attending a formerly Baptist university in the capital of the confederacy. But it’s different to know something than to see actual evidence of it. I was vaguely aware that UR was segregated for a long time, that blackface was performed regularly, and that what are now known as racial slurs, were used as everyday language. However, finding articles in The Collegian of students performing minstrel shows in places I am familiar with, hit home in a way I hadn’t expected. It has sparked a conflictual relationship between myself and the University, on one hand, I’d like to celebrate how far it has come and be grateful for the opportunities it has provided me. On the other hand however, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that the progress that has been made, is not enough.

In an attempt to resolve this, I have taken on Free Egunfemi’s challenge to humanize people of marginalized groups by using the language of the oppressed instead of the oppressor. This is important because often these people get lost. For example, in the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (VBHS) the story told of University of Richmond is from a white Baptist perspective and completely ignores the deep history of negative race relations that the University has. So, as a I embark on this project to help tell the stories, using terms like “enslaved” instead of “slave” has become increasingly more important.

There is something empowering about the stories too. Reading the interviews about some of the first black students on campus, and learning about their determination to succeed despite the obstacles they faced. Even looking at the number of students that attended University College has some sense of empowerment and is in line with Free’s themes of self-determination and resistance. University College was once used as a way for the school to continue to receive federal funding without really having to integrate. Despite this, the students that attended University College got their degrees.

Even though University of Richmond’s history with racism is complicated and messy, stories about Student Organization for Black Awareness (SOBA) that started Black History Week at UR, and were determined to make this place for the people after them is empowering. The hardest part of research thus far hasn’t been in relation to collecting metadata, rather it’s the details of what I am finding that has been hard. The research tells a story of a school that was strong in its racial ideology and learned to adapt its implementation of it due to fear of losing federal funding. It also shows that efforts are being made however, to change it, this project is a prime example of the progression of the University.

Jennifer Munnings is a sophomore, intending to major in Sociology with a minor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Jennifer is new to the Race & Racism Project, joining in Summer 2017 as a summer fellow. 

2 thoughts on “Research Challenges

  • September 13, 2017 at 8:53 am

    While I appreciate the honesty of your related encounter with History, I am strangely saddened by the tenor of your blog. Given the current eruption of violence, it seems there is an expectation to continually judge the past rather than change the future. I believe we need to acknowledge our history and accept it as it stands. Now – today and tomorrow should afford some capability for moving beyond the hurts and past inequities with knowledged gained from the past on how to do better. In other words – It is time to stop blaming the parents and sieze the opportunities at hand. We need this generation to find the optimistic pathway and move forward.

    • September 28, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      As a faculty mentor and coordinator of this project, I applaud Jennifer’s thoughtfulness and care in this blog post. Rather than merely accept history and move on, she struggles to make sense of her experiences as a student at a university with a past that includes parts that many would just as soon forget (and do, strategically). She takes a nuanced approach, acknowledging the complexity of history while grappling with how to experience life at the University of Richmond with this knowledge today. This, to me, signals a true reckoning with the past.

      Instead of assigning blame as so many are wont to do, Jennifer asks us to consider how we engage with a shameful past. As she does this, she considers stories that empower as well, in her writing about SOBA, for instance. This is all to say — we need to engage with the past, honestly and carefully. I hope you will engage the conversation about how best to do this.
      – Nicole Maurantonio, Coordinator & Mentor, Race & Racism at UR Project

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