by Shira Greer
Shira Greer is a rising sophomore from Fairfax, Virginia majoring in Political Science and minoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. This is her first summer working with the Race & Racism Project. On campus she is also a Richmond Scholar, an Oliver Hill Scholar, a Peer Advisor and Mentor, and a member of the Executive Council for a Multicultural Space at the University.
Before coming to the University of Richmond, I knew virtually nothing about its history. When applying to different schools, their histories were the furthest thing from my mind: I was only concerned with current academic and extracurricular offerings and of course, financing my education. Upon my arrival to campus, I was still clueless about UR’s history, but I soon came to learn more about it. I began hearing about the Race & Racism Project during my first semester and took a cursory look through the website and the student exhibits presented there.
However, it was not until I joined the project that I began to take a deeper look into the project, and therefore the school’s history. In examining the project website, I started with the subject lists. The “Black Power” subject heading was the first to catch my eye, as after attending UR for a year I couldn’t imagine the Black Power movement having much effect on UR’s campus. While my suspicion proved correct, I was surprised to find that Dick Gregory gave a lecture on campus in 1970, then again in 1973, despite alumni backlash after his first appearance. Learning about his unexpected appearances on campus reminded me how much I still don’t know about this university, yet a quote from Gregory’s lecture reminded me how little our social circumstances have changed. During his lecture, he told the students in attendance “You are going to be the group that is going to solve this country’s problems, or this country is going to fall,” a sentiment that is still repeated to my generation today. This similarity reminded me of the adage “there is nothing new under the sun,” which I found rang true throughout my dive into the Race & Racism website.
After finishing the article on Dick Gregory, I decided to follow the path I was already on and click into the “Anti-racism” subject heading, which led me to look at the history of the Student Organization for Black Awareness (SOBA). The first article I read detailed SOBA’s goals for the 1977-1978 school year. The final goal listed was to increase black and minority faculty. I found this goal particularly striking because the Multicultural Student Solidarity Network (MSSN), a current UR student organization, also called for an increase in minority faculty in their 2018 proposal for a multicultural space on campus. Nearly forty years later, students are still making the same demands on administration because the changes so many have called for have not occurred.
Continuing my investigation, I found further parallels to current situations at the University of Richmond. In the Black Student Experience exhibit, a 1971 Collegian article mentioned students travelling to neighboring universities for parties and other gatherings due to the dominance of white Greek life in UR’s social scene, which black students were locked out of due to the exclusive nature as well as the racism it perpetuated. In addition, black social life was inhibited due to the relatively small number of black students on UR’s campus compared to neighboring universities like Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University. Little has changed, as current students still travel to neighboring universities today since UR’s social scene continues to be dominated by Greek life and the university still lacks any sort of central student hub. While SOBA helped create more opportunities for black students to socialize on campus after it was founded in 1973, it was more difficult for the organization to reach its goal of reaching out to the broader university community. Stanley Davis, who served as chairman of SOBA, credited this to a “lack of interest in everything at the U of R,” which in my opinion is still a prevailing attitude on campus today. I found it funny that I would share the same sentiments as a student from forty-five years ago, but not surprising. Similarly, in the podcast “On Campus but Not Welcomed,” Dr. Jesse Moore shared sentiments like the ones current students share today. He spoke about how invisible he felt in the business school and how there was a “culture shock” he experienced upon being accepted to the business school, something I’ve heard current business school students echo today.
Overall, I found several parallels between past and present student sentiments and experiences. Though much has changed about the university between the 1970s and today, much has remained the same. While students may think that their experiences are unique, the wealth of information stored in the archives prove otherwise and demonstrate that there is nothing new under the sun.