This Week in the Archive: A Cloud of Change

by Tegan Helms

Tegan Helms is a senior from Wilton, Connecticut. She is majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and minoring in Visual and Media Arts Practices. This project has been an eye-opening experience, exposing the way the University of Richmond has handled the development of race relations throughout the years. In addition, this project has instilled in her the rhetorical importance of research and records in shaping our history and memory on certain subjects. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

This entry in The Collegian was the first of a series of editorials examining “The University Spirit” at the University of Richmond in 1968. The article published on February 16, 1968, titled “The University Spirit: Cloud of Gloom,” addresses the prevailing attitude among the student body of unhappiness with the school. This week’s article features the mutual distrust and disrespect between students and the upper echelons of the administration. According to the article, this distrust stemmed from poor communication, rigid rules, and a lack of progressiveness on part of certain university administration. “While it is understandable that their roots are in another generation–a generation very far removed from ours in many ways because of our current fast moving society–college educators should lead the way in keeping abreast of modern trends within society,” the article says.

According to this 1968 Collegian editorial, the University of Richmond had traditionally attracted an average student body consisting of “average family incomes, average intelligence, and average ambition for college.” As the university has expanded and the population of the school has increased, there has been an influx of above-average students in recent years. These above-average students are challenging many of the traditional issues on campus–in classrooms, in student life, etc.– in a way that certain administrators are not willing to engage in, rooting this issue of a “cloud of gloom” between students and faculty. This new wave of students is stirring up the conventional structures of academia used at the university, as well as challenging the administration in a progressive way. According to The Collegian, “the basic problem lies in the upper ranks of the University Administration, individuals who fear publicity of any kind and are horrified by controversy.” Many of the questions being asked of these students breed disagreements, controversy, and discussion, and inhibit the fear of being wrong when answered. In addition, members of the administration are thrown off by students of a “lesser” identity–whether that is income, intelligence, or experience–challenging their beliefs. The Collegian suggests that the students are moving in a progressive direction where their learning extends beyond the classroom to everyday life and there is a population of administrators that is not supporting that movement.

The year this article was published, 1968, marks an important time in the development of Richmond as a city and the University of Richmond. From Benjamin Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History, we know that Virginia was still facing the effects of Massive Resistance and Richmond schools were fighting for integration. According to Alley in his book, The University of Richmond, in 1964, University College enrolled University of Richmond’s first black students and in 1968, the admission of the first black residential student on the main campus occurred.  That resident was Barry Greene and more can be read about him and his entry to the University of Richmond on the university history page:  Many of the controversial conversations that the engaged University of Richmond students wanted to have likely stemmed from this period of integration at both the university and in the city. It was a topic of conversation that had never before been openly addressed, which probably contributed to the hesitation of various members of the administration.

The Encyclopedia of Virginia discusses the rate at which desegregation in Virginia occurred and how the this time period was crucial to its development; “as a result of court decisions and the growing role of the federal government in the desegregation process, larger numbers of African American students entered formerly white schools, and vice versa, late in the 1960s and early in the 1970s.” Perhaps the administration was uncomfortable talking about such topics because of the controversy that surrounded them in Richmond and throughout Virginia, but these interested, hungry, and eager students were willing to push back on that controversy and look towards the future of their school and society. Given the momentous period of integration that was occurring on both the University of Richmond’s campus and the city of Richmond at the time of this opinion piece, it makes sense that students were sparking controversial conversations. The new wave of students at this time were challenging norms that had been accepted for years, disrupting the comfort of administration and other students alike. The disconnect between administration and students as described in this opinion piece is rooted in differing approaches to the development of society and a transition in cultural norms.