by Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart
Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is a sophomore at the University of Richmond who is double-majoring in Economics and Mathematics. Elizabeth is a Boatwright and Oliver Hill Scholar, who tutors at the Academic Skill Center. She has been involved with the Race and Racism Project since the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow. She is excited to discover more about the University of Richmond’s past as she believes it is linked to the city of Richmond’s interesting history. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.
In Alley’s University of Richmond, the author emphasizes the institution’s first integration of black students to the main campus by mentioning the admission of Barry Greene in 1968. (p. 98) However, I want to dig deeper into the effect and success of the integration of black people at the university, especially black women. In an article of the Collegian from September, 1971, Thomas N. Pollard Jr., Director of Admissions of Richmond College at the time reported that “definite but slow” progress was being made in the recruitment of blacks to the University of Richmond. (Tatum, 1971, p. 4) Linda Tatum, the author of the article reported the opinion of multiple black students at the time, and two main concerns arise: the lack of social life for black students and the disproportional amount of black women living on campus. Immediately after reading this article I start wondering: Why does it take longer to integrate black females than black males?
On December 7, 1978, multiple articles in the Collegian guided me to the answer to this question. The first one, titled “Recruiting Troubles Cited by Students” reported that “recruitment of blacks at the University of Richmond is concentrated in the athletic department”. The article emphasizes that a majority of black males were attracted to the university by the athletic scholarship programs; otherwise, they would not be able to afford it. Indeed, this lack of effort in recruiting black students outside of athletics was one of the main reasons why out of 45 black undergraduates at the time, only six were women. The financial burden as a cause for this imbalance is further emphasized by Valerie Collins, a black junior enrolled at the time. She states that “most of the black females are from middle-class families, who have grown up around predominately white neighborhoods”. She admitted growing up in an all-white neighborhood, as her father was a Baptist minister.
On the same note, another article in the Collegian titled “Virginia Program to Increase Enrollment in Public Schools” quotes Pollard, director of admissions, justifying the lack of further integration of black students to the university. “Most private institutions lack the resources for recruiting blacks, which the public institutions have,” he states. (The Collegian, 1978, p. 5) At the same time, he points out that “competition for qualified minority students is second to recruiting blue chip athletes.” The latter statement makes it clear that the disproportionality between black females and males on campus was not an accident. The university’s high tuition costs, poor recruiting efforts, and lack of scholarship options outside athletics seem to be the main reasons why the enrollment of black females on campus was so small in the 1970s. By 1973, according to the Collegian article “Two Students Discuss The Life Of A One Percent Minority“, Stanley Davis was the only black, non-athlete living in the Richmond College dorms, and Belinda Carr was the first black student living in the Westhampton College dorm, who got acquainted with the school through the “National Negro Scholarship Fund”. (Seward, 1973, p. 4)
In the last years of the decade, the problem still did not receive enough attention, which is illustrated by Pollard’s dismissal of the issue, as he is paraphrased in the Collegian: “there are fine nearby black institutions such as Virginia Union University and Hampton Institute.” (The Collegian, 1978, p. 5) A similar argument was made by other institutions located in Virginia, such as the College of William & Mary, which denied admission to the black female Miriam Johnson Carter in 1955 on the grounds that “Virginia State College offered the same program” when she applied to the graduate program in Education. Later on, she was accepted and became the first black woman to be enrolled in William & Mary
Ultimately, these articles help create a picture of UR’s transition towards integration. While the inclusion of the first black student to the main campus in 1968 is often cited as a victory, we also have to acknowledge the attitudes and circumstances that hindered a faster rate of enrollment of black students, in particular females and non-athletes. The school had denied admission to black students for about 110 years, and when it finally opened admissions to this group there were not enough efforts to recruit black students and to provide funds to non-athletes. This stereotype of identifying black students on campus as athletes still stands today. And while undoubtedly there is a greater move towards recruiting minority students, there is still more work to be done.