[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 Eden Wolfer
Eden Wolfer is a rising junior from Wilmington, Delaware. She is majoring in sociology and minoring in education. This is her first summer working for the Race & Racism Project and she is excited to learn from this experience.
PWI is short for “Predominantly White Institution” and is used to describe both modern day higher education institutions in which white students make up 50% or more of the student population, and to reference institutions which have been historically white, in contrast to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). (More on PWIs can be found in the Encyclopedia of African-American Education, 1996).
When I was starting to look at colleges, it was easy to look at the provided statistics about diversity and think that was enough. If there was a significant percentage of non-white students on campus that was all I could ask for from my school. My experience at college would not be affected by how people of color experienced campus, and obviously this is a very privileged position to be able to work from. Thinking about it now, two years into a sociology degree later, I am not sure why a 17 year old would think to look for information about the experience of students of color when we have been socialized into thinking a number of diverse students is enough to show a school is not racist.
If someone were to try and begin to look for the concealed racial history of the University of Richmond without knowing to look at the Race & Racism Project website, there are no easily found resources. The school website brushes over the history with integration and completely ignores the administration’s deep resistance. Overall, while attending this school little about its racially charged past has ever been brought to my attention outside of conversations with people involved in the Race & Racism Project at UR.
Modlin is a name heard on campus all the time, if only to complain about the hill leading up to the Westhampton Green. However, Modlin the man was not even someone on my radar until this past week; I never even knew he was a president of the university. As such, knowing he would be critical to learn about in the process of learning about race and racism at this school I chose to focus mostly on him to explore on memory.richmond.edu.
The Modlin letters posted online have been such an interesting resource, never in the course of my education have I seen primary sources that support institutionalized racism. In one instance, Dr. George M. Modlin sent a letter encouraging those who supported democracy to “exert their full influence in maintaining our political and economic traditions” a reference to using poll taxes to keep black citizens of Virginia from voting. In another letter he writes about how the school was the last in the state to integrate and only because they intended to keep the ROTC and other federal programs; in the letter he asks the recipient to be “sympathetic” in understanding why the school had to integrate. This is a man whose name is memorialized on our arts center, whose name is brought up daily by every student walking to North Court, whose legacy at this school was keeping it segregated for as long as possible.
I still want to learn more about the history of this school, more than is available on the official page with the quotes from Barry Greene, the first residential black student, about how he feels welcomed on the last college campus to integrate. However, the struggle to walk up Mount Modlin feels like so much more knowing about the man behind the name.