[For the first blog post of the Summer 2018 A&S Research Fellowship, students were tasked with exploring the existing collection of the Race & Racism at UR Project at memory.richmond.edu and reflecting on the materials they encountered there.]
by Ayele d’Almeida
Ayele d’Almeida is a Political Science and Leadership double-major from Bloomington, Minnesota. Her work at Common Ground, the University of Richmond’s social justice initiative informed her decision to pursue the Race & Racism Project as a summer fellow. She hopes that through her fellowship and continued connection with the project, she will learn more about the University of Richmond. Ayele believes that the Race & Racism Project will also help later in life – as the project forces her to question institutions she may benefits from. She hoped to focus her research on black faculty and the presence of black students in white-dominated clubs and spaces.
My first introduction to the University of Richmond was in December of my Senior year – much later than the average applicant or attendee to the University. When I was accepted into the Richmond, I was flown out from Minnesota to visit campus through a multicultural accepted students program, entitled A Night To See and Experience Richmond (ANSWER). I would be on campus with a group of other multicultural-identified students and we would eventually transition into the larger accepted students’ day. It was during this first visit to campus that I learned that the University of Richmond is involved in an ongoing battle to recruit multicultural students. After one day of activities with other multicultural students, I was thrown into the larger admitted students day. I realized quickly that the number of multicultural students interested in and attending the University of Richmond was low. Although I was told multiple times about the rich, white, Southern reputation of the University, my expectations did not prepare me for the extent to which stereotypes were reinforced.
The article entitled “Black Students Day Planned” in The Collegian points to the planning of a similar program for black students in 1973. African Americans students from neighboring school districts were invited to go to classes and eat a meal. The event was going to “familiarize” Black students with the University. The article alludes to the consequences of the university’s problematic past, which steered–and continues to steer–black students away from our campus. The piece’s rhetoric, however, seems hopeful with the then Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) President rejoicing at the upcoming event which was meant to encourage or “recruit” black students to consider furthering their education at the University of Richmond. There is problematic and questionable language in the text, specifically with the way the event seems to be marketed to those invited. I take issue with Steve Nock, the RCSGA class president’s assertion that the Black Student Day is an opportunity for “the blacks […] to realize that Richmond has something to offer them.” In this statement lies the racially charged language that reduces black students to a group called “the blacks” rendering them a population that needs the university to succeed. The article mentions that these students “are all college bound,” but for some reason, the University of Richmond believed that a school that was notorious for excluding black students was a perfect college selection for black students. It seems to me that “the blacks,” despite proving to be high-achieving students in their own rights, were still grouped together based on their race. Although Nock eventually added to this statement by stating that “we also want students at UR to realize that black students have something to offer them.” The problem with this rhetoric is that it makes the integration of black students into the University centered around the goodwill of the white population. Nock adds that he also wanted “students at UR to realize that black students have something to offer at this University.” This language implies that it is up to white students to give black students a chance, when in actuality, the decision was in the hands of the admitted black students.
Why is it that white students needed to be convinced that integration would be beneficial to the school as a whole? Why is integration being treated as an act of kindness towards black students? These students should not need to prove that going to the University of Richmond will benefit and stroke the egos of white students. Multicultural students do enrich and elevate the status of the University of Richmond – but not because we were brought here to do so. Unfortunately, even the seemingly progressive actions of powerful individuals at the University of Richmond proved to be serving the best interest of the higher order.
Although the history of why the university had the reputation of the rich, southern school escaped me. It is not that I did not know the history of segregation in the south – it was that being from the north, issues of race were always attributed to the south and thus, they were rarely on my radar. I do not believe that I had quite delved into the cause of our low black student count (6%) until I discovered the Race & Racism Project. In looking through articles such as “Black Students Day Planned,” it is even more evident that there is a rich history in the documents of our past. I believe that the Race & Racism Project is a tool– especially in a case like this one. It is easy to miss the implications of some of the rhetoric used in early University texts if one analyzes at a surface level. Looking deeper at the context of an article and connecting events with present day makes it easier to ask questions.