This Week in the Archive: RCSGA Then and Now

by Vishwesh Mehta

Vishwesh Mehta is a senior from Mumbai, India, majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies. Vishwesh began his involvement in the Race & Racism Project in the Spring of 2017, when he was enrolled in an independent study course, and continued his participation through the summer as the Social Media and Public Relations Intern for the project. He has been compelled by the archive’s ground level perspective on conversations and incidents involving race on the University campus. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

The article being examined today–“RC Senator Impeached“–is one published in the Collegian in 1973 shortly after University of Richmond started integrating themselves and started accepting more black students. This article speaks about how a Richmond College student, Stanley Davis, was impeached as a Richmond College Senator for various reasons by a unanimous decision. Davis was elected as RC senator one year before his impeachment, in 1972. He was the first ever black senator to be elected to student government. This incident seems to be standard procedure, but when looked at closely, this incident said a lot about how far the university had come with regards to integration. This was an indicator towards the transition from explicit and blatant racism to implicit and structural racism. However, the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) has come a long way when examined today.

According to the article, the first and only black Richmond College Senator at that point was impeached in 1973 by a 7-1 vote. Davis was impeached for not being able to attend three consecutive meetings of the senate that year. Also, he had missed five meetings from his previous term. During the meeting, a vote was taken to exclude press, and the Collegian reporter was asked to leave. However, thirty-five minutes later the reporter was invited back in. The meeting time of the senate clashed with the job schedule of Davis which led to him missing the meetings. There was some support for keeping Davis but at the end of it all the vote for impeachment went through and Davis was no longer on the senate.

About a fortnight before the impeachment, there was a unanimous vote which was aimed at asking Davis for a resignation from the senate because of his inability to attend the meetings because of a job which he needed. Davis spoke to a Collegian reporter and said that he was not planning on resigning from his position. Also, he said that some of his fellow Richmond College Student Government Association(RCSGA) knew about his job situation and he was constantly updated about the senate meeting by them. He later went onto say that he was willing to find middle ground to resolve this situation. However, fifteen days later there was a vote and he was impeached.

Being a private school, it is safe to assume that attending the University of Richmond full time was expensive. Thus, the students going to the university before “the big push” for integration were mainly rich white students who did not understand the concept of being responsible for earning their own money and supporting themselves and their family. Most of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. However, after integration of their university, some black students from middle and upper middle-class backgrounds came into the school. So, when a situation like Davis’ arose there was no effort made to understand his side of the story. Even though it was not mentioned explicitly, it is safe to assume that Davis did not come from a rich background because he needed the job to support himself. Also, Davis being the first black man in an all-white organization was not helped or given a chance to find middle ground. It was like they never wanted him there and they acted quickly as soon as they had a chance to get rid of him without looking for alternatives.

The current Richmond College Student Government Association seems to have a come a long way from the bigotry and rigidity portrayed by the above-mentioned incident. The RCSGA Executive committee and Senate looks very different than it did 30 years ago. Currently, there are people from various backgrounds and races involved with the current student government. Some of the members are close friends of mine and have provided some great insight into the works of the current student government. They informed me that senate has a good mix of international students, scholars, and students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, some of who I know personally. While there are various rules for being involved with the student government, things like meeting timings are adjustable because of a rigorous academic schedule and students having jobs on campus.

The old RCSGA was part of an institution that was integrating under the threat of the federal government cutting off funding to the college. Stanley Davis, the first black senator on the student government was treated unfairly and impeached under unjustified circumstances. However, he did fight to keep his position and set a precedent for future students from minority communities to be part of a very important institution for student life on campus. Today, the Richmond College Student Government Association has come a long way from the bigotry spoken of above and even though it does not solve the race relation issues on campus it is a step in the right direction and can be built on further.