Where Is There Space for Me?

by Sabrina Garcia

Sabrina Garcia is a junior from, Waldwick, New Jersey double majoring in Leadership Studies and English and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). This is her first year working on the Race & Racism Project, on Team Archive. Sabrina is in the WILL* Program, works as a writing consultant, and is training to be a PSMA. She hopes to dedicate her career to social justice and believes in the mission of Race & Racism wholeheartedly.

In making a decision on which university to attend, whether or not that school had inclusive policies or any initiatives to improve inclusion on campus for minority students was not something that I considered. I knew very little about the University of Richmond as an institution and simply chose this school because of its ranking and the amount of aid that was offered. Through my classes—I’m an English and Leadership double major and a Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies minor–I quickly became exposed to the history of racial inequalities that still effects the city of Richmond and to how the University of Richmond continues to perpetuate white supremacy ideology by not confronting its past.

Upon coming to this campus, I soon felt that I did not belong on this predominantly white campus as a Latinx woman. I experienced micro aggressions from fellow classmates, and was unable to find spaces of comfort. However, one place I have felt a sense of belonging is in the WILL* Program. My interest in feminist literature and passion for activism drove me to become a part of this program dedicated to connecting women and nonbinary individuals together to promote activism and intersectional feminism. It allowed me to connect to feminist and racial issues on an academic level and be able to see the value in applying those concepts to institutions to break the cycle of disparity. Upon learning about the Race and Racism Project, I was curious to learn more about the history of this University and work with archivists and educators who found importance in exposing the institution that they work for.

In beginning to explore the website for the Race & Racism Project I quickly discovered the extent that intolerance is intertwined in the foundation of this school and the history of who has been permitted onto this space. Perhaps the most revealing sentiments were shown in Collegian articles as this newspaper has been written and run by students. A student feature That’s What You Think appears multiple times in the archive. A January 1991 addition asked multiple students the question, “How would you feel about a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Student Organization on campus?” There were no positive answers. The main sentiment of each answer, and the perception of queerness by the student body can be summarized by one anonymous student stating, “How could you answer that without offending anyone?” This blatant homophobia shows that the University of Richmond had not then become a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals.

This same segment asked another question in another 1989 Collegian article, “What do you think about the race relations at UR?” Cathy Clark answered “People tend to stick together a lot with their own races.” Amy Hewett stated “Perhaps if we made an effort not to separate ourselves we’d realize how much each race has to offer each other.” Comments such as these reflect the state of integration among the student body today as well. If one would walk into the dining hall today, there is a clear separation from white, black, and international students. There is a lack of integration, and the fact that this has not changed since 1989, shows that the institution has not accomplished much in meaningful inclusivity.

Upon delving further into the website, I was curious to explore more about the white supremacist sentiments that contribute to the lack of integration that is present on this campus. I focused especially on the exhibit Student Life and White Supremacy created by students Sharon Lim, Caitlin McCallister, and Morgan Snider. In this exhibit, the role of blackface and minstrelsy as a central part of campus life and entertainment was quite alarming as the images were promoted by the school and such images were showcased in yearbooks. Another alarming aspect of this exhibit was a brief Collegian article about “the Anglo-Saxon Club” which was started with the help of John Powell, a local Richmond pianist who also contributed to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. This act supported the concept that one was tainted if they had “one drop” of African American blood. Powell came to the University to speak on the evil consequences that would come with mixing races, and how the white race would be degraded. After this presentation, he collaborated with University of Richmond students, to start their own Anglo-Saxon Club in 1923. The sentiments that Powell preached are echoed today in white supremacist hate groups, and to see such blatant belief in racist ideology is quite shocking to read.

Though aspects of the University’s history such as the Anglo-Saxon Club may seem like remnants of history, there are stories in the Collegian that show that such a history continues in the 21st century. Discovering the University’s mascot was a spider was enough to make me hesitant about Richmond, but to know that the school’s mascot was once the Confederate Spider, a symbol of racist ideology, pushes that hesitancy to flat out disgust. However, those sentiments may not be shared by all as in a 2006 Collegian article, there was some outrage when the Richmond Junior Class Cabinet was forced to stop selling their shirts by Common Ground. These shirts depicted the Confederate Spider, and the interview quotes President Max Sirkin as saying, “I’m really upset because as [the design] came under the slightest flak it was pulled.” The title of this article is also “Class cabinet forced to stop selling ‘offensive’ shirts,” which seems to question whether or not this symbol of a Confederate Soldier should even be deemed as offensive. The fact that this Collegian article was written in 2006, and that students are proposing a symbol of the Confederacy as inoffensive shows that this University still is not close to the inclusive space it claims to be.

All of this culminates to my final question of “Is there a place for me on this campus?” I honestly do not know if I would have chosen to attend the University of Richmond had I know the deep racist history that continues to be seen on campus, with buildings named after slave owners (Ryland Hall) and statues of men who inflicted death and suffering onto women (E. Claiborne Robins). However, most acclaimed institutions of higher learning, have built their status upon the labor of blacks and other minority groups. This realization caused me to pose a question to these institutions, What are you doing to make sure that black students and other marginalized students feel welcome? Learning more about the University and the ways that it perpetuated and continues to perpetuate white power; allows me to see the Race and Racism Project as a genuine chance to acknowledge wrongs done and move forward in creating an better campus for future students. I may ask the question now, but I am hopeful that a project such as this eliminates future marginalized Spiders from asking the same questions.