by Destiny Riley
Destiny Riley is a Class of 2019 graduate from Maumelle, Arkansas, majoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies and double minoring in Sociology and American Studies. Destiny first contributed to the Race & Racism at UR Project during an independent study course in the Spring of 2017, and then joined the team again via Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017. This post was written as part of a Spring 2019 independent study with the Race & Racism Project.
From the late 1980s to the late 2000s, the Collegian published a feature series titled “That’s What You Think.” The series, consisting of the responses from five people to a posed question also included a picture of each respondent most of the time. The respondents ranged from students to professors. While many of the questions prompted lighthearted responses, such as ones discussing Vanilla Ice, others prompted much more complex, and often problematic, responses. These features provided insight into people’s thinking throughout various years and decades. Not only did the features shed light on the University community’s critiques of the University, but also illuminated people’s problematic views on topics such as homosexuality and gender stereotypes. One of the articles that caught my attention in this series posed the following question: What do you think about race relations at UR?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the topic of race relations was quite common in the University’s student newspaper. Though this February 1989 “That’s What You Think” feature’s responses were few in number, there was a wide range of opinions presented in response to this question. Some students believed that the University did not have any issues with race relations. A Richmond College students responded to the question by saying “Except for a few incidents, the race issue has appeared to be a fairly stable one.” This certainly causes one to wonder, what were these incidents? Was this student hesitant to discuss them? Did he simply assume everyone would know of the incidents he was referring to? Was he attempting to keep his answer as short as possible? Because of the brevity of the answers, it is hard to tell. However, it certainly is interesting to think about, and possibly find out, what incidents he was referring to.
While some students believed that the University did not have any issues with race relations, others believed that there was a definite need for a push for interracial interactions. Two Westhampton College students noted the separation of races stating that “Perhaps if we made an effort not to separate ourselves we’d realize how much each race has to offer the other” as well as “People lend to stick together with their own races a lot.” Both of these responses suggest the lack of interaction between students of various races at the University in the late 1980s. Considering this article was published a little more than twenty years after Barry Greene made history as the first Black residential student at the University of Richmond, it is probably not shocking to most people that the various races of the student body were not actively interacting with each other in 1989. However, this mention of the separation of races is interesting to think about in the context of racial interactions at the University today, as there has been controversy surrounding the lack of race and class interactions amongst students.
Last year, the University was ranked #9 on The Princeton Review’s list of 20 “Colleges with Little Race/Class Interaction.” The list was based on “how strongly students agree that different types of students interact frequently and easily at their schools.” What does this say about the University and its progress in the realm of relations over the past 20 years? In 1989, students were criticizing the lack of racial interactions, as different racial groups kept to themselves. Clearly, with the publication of the Princeton Review list, the University is still struggling with this problem. It makes one wonder, what is the reason for the lack of racial interaction amongst University of Richmond students today? For students of color, this separation could possibly exist because the University’s social scene and academic spaces do not always feel the most welcoming. While the University continues to celebrate its alleged diversity “progress,” students of color on this campus continue to face subtle and blatant, racist and uncomfortable experiences, often times at the hands of white students. The University’s public celebration of these “diversity” milestones and initiatives and the outright lack of recognition of these racist interactions, as well as the lack of racial interactions overall, is very telling. In 1989 these problems of little to no racial interactions and racial “incidents” existed, and clearly still exist today. When will the University address and approach these issues with the same zeal as it celebrates the seeming progression of racial diversity amongst incoming classes?
To truly make this campus a space for students of various racial backgrounds to live and thrive collectively, the University must not only address the present state of racial relations, but also the past that led us here.