[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 Kristi Mukk
Kristi Mukk is a rising senior from Mililani, Hawaii. She is majoring in Rhetoric and Communications and minoring in English. She is a dancer and communications director for Ngoma African Dance Company. This is her first time working for the Race & Racism Project as a Summer Fellow, and she is excited to continue her work in the course Digital Memory & the Archive in Fall 2018.
When I first toured the campus before applying, I observed that the University of Richmond struggled with issues of diversity and inclusivity, and I found myself questioning how I would fit in. In being awed by the beautiful campus, it can be easy to overlook how predominantly white and affluent the student body is. I planned on declaring a business major, so when I came to visit campus, I explored the Robins School of Business and sat in on an economics class. I was immediately struck by the lack of students of color and faculty of color in comparison to other departments. During my two semesters as a Pre-Business freshman, I felt that the business school had an alienating atmosphere for students of color—the majority of students in my classes were a part of Greek life, had an affluent socioeconomic background, and already had connections in the business world. This is part of the reason that I decided to switch to liberal arts disciplines like English and Rhetoric and Communications where there are more diverse students and faculty. Not only is there more numerical diversity in these departments, but students and faculty make an effort to have conversations about race, equity, inclusivity, and justice. Furthermore, the diversity of the curriculum reflects an interest in a more inclusive history and beliefs and cultures outside of the Western world.
Rather than just focusing on numerical diversity, the University of Richmond needs to focus more on equity and inclusion. Back in 1971, the University of Richmond faculty raised recommendations for the University to create a more diverse student body by recruiting students from outside Virginia as well as ethnic and socioeconomic minorities. It is interesting to note that minority student enrollment (under the categories of “American Indian,” “Negro,” “Oriental,” and “Spanish Surnamed American”) at the University of Richmond from 1972-1973 was 2.6% of total enrollment. Thus, it is not surprising that the organization, Students for a Well-Balanced Campus, addressed concerns to President Heilman about the number of minority students enrolled. Similar concerns about diversity and inclusivity have also been voiced this year in Westhampton College Government Association and the Richmond College Student Government Association’s Listening Tour report.
The current student profile for the University of Richmond Class of 2021 lists 30% U.S. students of color and 38% students of color when including international students. Efforts to recruit a more diverse student body can be traced back to 1971 when the University hosted “Black Students Visitation Day” to bring black Richmond high school students on campus. This initiative was created by student organizations because they believed that it would be more effective in recruiting black students. Currently, the University of Richmond hosts events for prospective students such as MOVE (Multicultural Overnight Visitation Experience), which introduces prospective students to current multicultural students and organizations on campus. [Read more about MOVE and “Black Students Visitation Day” in this post by Ayele d’Almeida.] This program is similar to “Black Students Visitation Day” because efforts are centered around the current minority students recruiting other prospective minority students. Although the University of Richmond’s numerical diversity has been steadily increasing over the years, an inclusive environment for students of color has not been established. By joining Ngoma African Dance Company on campus, I found a diverse and inclusive environment where students from various backgrounds and ethnicity can be united and empowered through dance. It is through the involvement of multicultural groups such as Ngoma on campus that the student body can foster respect and celebration of differing cultures.
I was not surprised to learn that the voices of students of color at the University of Richmond are almost entirely absent. The article “Six Students from Hong Kong Add Oriental Flavor to WC” from the Collegian in 1959 illustrates how Asian students are cast into the frame of “otherness” and add “oriental flavor” and “international spice” to the University. This dehumanizing language contributes to the exoticizing of Asian culture, and suggests that the University of Richmond does not truly value these students, but rather is more interested in claiming that the student population is diverse due to the addition of these students.
In exploring the lived experiences of biracial students at the University of Richmond, I hope to create a more inclusive history that helps other students make sense of their identity and experiences on campus. If the marginalized voices of students that have been ignored or silenced are heard, there can be a shift from just numerical diversity to inclusion at the University of Richmond.