Finding Another Piece of the Puzzle

[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 Mysia Perry

Mysia Perry is a rising sophomore from Richmond, VA with an intended major in Leadership Studies and minor in Sociology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She is a part of the WILL* program, Peer Advisors and Mentors,  Planned Parenthood Generation Action, and she is both an Oldham and Oliver Hill Scholar. This is her first summer working on the Race & Racism Project on Team Oral History, and she is very excited to begin working for more equitable environment here at the University of Richmond.

I knew what I was doing when I applied to the University of Richmond. I knew that I would be entering a new environment where there would be little to no people who look like me in my classrooms.  I have been in predominantly white spaces before and had some idea of what that could mean for me, but worried what differences  there would be when the space included, less of me, in other ways. The predominantly white spaces I had previously occupied had heavier similarities between us socially than our difference in race. With college, a space where I would be surrounded by people who had different outlooks on life, I had thoughts about what my future would be. I found that it was best to ignore that only half a century ago my ancestors were not seen on the campus I live on. I tried not to worry about what this meant for me as a black, queer, female student at the University of Richmond.

As I explored the Race & Racism project exhibit on Student Life and White Supremacy for the first time, I was beyond surprised seeing what the white student experience was before integration at UR, specifically in the early 1920s. Before attending the university, I chose to ignore the history beyond the obvious: before integration, my school would not have allowed my enrollment until 1968. I didn’t research the extent to which I would have experienced discrimination from UR students of the 1920s. I did not want to question how my identities could conflict with sharing the same identity of UR students who once wore my face as a “silly and inconsequential” joke or mocked my culture through words in their free time. As a black student searching for the place to acquire my higher education, I chose to stay ignorant to the things that I deemed unnecessary to focus on; the history of the university I would choose was one of those things.

Since coming to the university, I am beginning to notice things about UR that I wish I’d known earlier in my college search. I am learning about the ways in which my culture was drawn out and exaggerated to make a mockery of everything that I am. I have learned that hardly a century ago, these minstrel shows were celebrated. Because of this, I find that my interest lies in examining what the black student experience was following the integration of schools in the 1960s. I am curious to see how this history played into the experience of the firsts, especially with their enrollment being so close to it. I find that my mind wanders into the history of Richmond student race relations and worries for the truth held in these untold stories.

As I further explored the Race & Race Project exhibits, I found myself interested in the exhibit on faculty response to changes on the national level. I found that it was with hesitation and careful maneuvering that the university addressed the issue of integration. This exhibit made me curious to see more of the students’ interest and input into the changes that would allow me to attend school at the University of Richmond. As the exhibit says, that portion of research highlighted only one piece of the puzzle. I believe that delving deeper into student input and response to these national changes could be helpful in recovering more on the history of the University. Researching these things could shine light on more positive aspects of our history, and it could allow us to see if the University had students that were interested in implementing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I believe that with this research, we would be able to add another portion of the race and racism narrative.

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