Connecting the Past and the Future

by Catherine Franceski

Catherine Franceski is rising junior from Washington, D.C. majoring in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law (PPEL) with concentration in politics and minoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies. She is the president of Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity, and a member of the Westhampton College Honor Council. This is her second year working on the Race & Racism Project. Last summer, she focused on studying the lives and legacies of “hidden” black figures in Richmond, Virginia’s history.

This week, I began conducting research by analyzing old University of Richmond yearbooks. I began with the 1960s, thinking that it would be interesting to focus on a critical time for school integration and cultural shifts in the United States. I wanted to “read against the grain” in the yearbooks, meaning I would think critically about what was presented in the yearbooks, asking questions such as “who is not being represented in these photos?” or “what does this photo tell us about who has power at this institution or during this time?”

At first, the photos were difficult to understand and interpret because so many traditions had changed since the ‘60s. For example, up until the late 1970s, where I paused my research (and probably for much longer), “Rat Week,” a freshman hazing tradition, occurred at the beginning of each school year. There was also an annual beauty contest for the first Saturday of May, or May Day, in which a Westhampton College student would be crowned May Day Queen and the runners-up would part of the May Day court. I had to spruce up my university history to recognize these photos.

To find out about some of the specific references, I consulted The Collegian archives in an attempt to link the photos to their proper context in university history. Through my research of the yearbooks, I was able to see certain continuities that transcended the decades into today, and that largely characterize the University of Richmond undergraduate experience. These included the majority of students living on campus for four years, the presence of international students, the personalized teaching experience where professors know their students individually, and the coordinate college system. On the other hand, the obvious changes since the ’60s and ’70s included: the introduction or discontinuation of different events and traditions, the introduction of sororities, the expanding racial and geographic diversity of the student body, and the popular study abroad program.

Digging through the history of the school made me think: How will UR look like 50 or 60 years from now? Based on recent changes over the past decade or so, I believe that UR will become more connected to the Richmond community through service and community-based learning, as many classes have adopted this type of learning into their curricula. Furthermore, because the city of Richmond has undergone a revitalization, into a hip, artistic city, I have seen, and hope to see, UR students feeling more comfortable interacting with the city.

Lastly, in half a century from now (or sooner), I hope to see UR living up to its ideals of true diversity. UR has certainly come a long way since the late 1960s when integration first began taking place. Although UR still has a long way to go in terms of recruiting students of color and making sure they feel included in the campus community, I realize that progress has been made. As more students of color enrolled in the university in the 1970s, I observed in the yearbook the creation of groups specifically for students of color, such as the Student Organization for Black Awareness. Since the cutoff point of my research and the present-time, there has been the creation of the historically black fraternities and sororities, amongst other organizations. I think that this is proof of students of color having an expanding role in the campus community, even if changes are only happening slowly. If the past is any indication, change will come, although at times painstakingly slow, and that it will bend in the direction of progress. I am left with: What will I personally do to make the arc bend in the direction of justice?