This Week in the Archive: That’s What You Think

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?

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Creating Our Own

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.

https://memory.richmond.edu/files/original/1519467634636ac44938c799563c22b7.JPGSince the spring semester of 2017, I have continued to gain experience working with archival material, thanks to the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Throughout my time working in the archives, the silencing and marginalization of Black people has become more and more apparent to me. Last year, my research group created an exhibit titled “Resistance and Compliance” for the Project’s website in which we explored the controversy around the University’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the efforts it made to progress in terms of integration. During my research, I found a Collegian article titled “Black and White.” In this article, the author discussed the University’s path to integration, claiming that many current students were in favor of integration. The reason was that they felt they deserved to get a chance to experience the “educated Negro,” rather than the negative depiction of Black people they saw in the media. While it may seem as if white students wished for inclusivity, their reasons for wanting Black students at the University were extremely selfish and blatantly problematic. There are countless articles and documents with this same racist, condescending tone–and much worse–throughout the archives. However, when we discuss documents such as this one, we feel the need to discuss it with a neutral tone, though the tone of these documents are far from neutral.

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What’s your experience with race and racism at the University of Richmond?

In October 2017, a cohort of students, faculty, and staff worked with radio creator and producer Kelley Libby to practice audio recording skills and to produce a brief audio piece for the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Faculty members Dr. Patricia Herrera and Dr. Nicole Maurantonio, project archivist Irina Rogova, junior Joanna Hejl, and senior Cory Schutter roamed the University of Richmond campus on a brisk Saturday morning posing one question to passerbys: What’s your experience with race and racism at the University of Richmond?

The below audio piece (with subtitles embedded) is a sampling of the answers they received. Thank you to Kelley Libby for editing, and to seniors Destiny Riley and Cory Schutter for narrating the piece.

 

Resistance & Compliance

During the Fall 2017 semester, 15 students took RHCS 412 Digital Memory & the Archive, a course exploring the intersections of history, memory, and archival research into UR history. The final project for this course was a team effort to use archival materials and other resources to craft a narrative related to the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Using archival materials, Collin Kavanaugh, Julia Marcellino, and Destiny Riley created a digital exhibit exploring the reactions of University of Richmond students and administration to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They asked difficult questions about what compliance with federal legislation looked like, how the University reacted to integration, and how modern day issues around diversity and inclusion play out at the university today. In their own words:

Even today, through looking at the outreach that the University distributes to their prospective students, it seems as though they are projecting an image that does not necessarily reflect the current student body. In an article boasting that the incoming class of 2021 is the most diverse class yet, the University uses a photo that depicts four students, although the two minority students are not students of the class of 2021, but are actually part of the class of 2019. It would seem as though the University is continuing to have a strong disconnect between the projection of their student body and the actual make-up of the student body. 

Collin Kavanaugh is a senior from East Hampton, New York, majoring in Leadership Studies at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.  Julia Marcellino is a senior from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and Dance, and minoring in Business Administration. Destiny Riley is a junior from Maumelle, Arkansas, majoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies and double minoring in Sociology and American Studies.

Click here to check out their exhibit “Resistance & Complaince” on memory.richmond.edu

This Week in the Archive: No Progress, No Purpose

by Destiny Riley

Destiny Riley is a junior from Maumelle, Arkansas, majoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies and double minoring in Sociology and American Studies. The most interesting part of this project for her was making connections between the ways that the University viewed race in the early to mid-20th century and how the University views race in the modern day. Destiny first contributed to the Race & Racism at UR Project during an independent study course in the Spring of 2017. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

In 1965, Betty Jean Seymour, the director of religious activities for Westhampton College, conducted a study of Richmond and surrounding areas. She concluded that many Black, high-school age students in the area had low skills or were illiterate. Some had even forgotten basic skills such as how to hold a pencil for writing. This was because for a long time, specifically during the years of 1959-1964, Black students did not have the same access to privately-funded schools as white students. As I studied this article from the Collegian, I wanted to know more about why Black, high-school age students were so behind in skills and education during this time. Aside from the obvious segregation of public schools up until the 1950s, I felt as if there had to be more of a reason for this gap of education levels between Black and white students. As I delved deeper into the racial climate of this time, the blatant cause of this gap became very clear.

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This Week in the Archive: How Far Have We Come?

By Destiny Riley

During the 1930s, the University of Richmond’s very own Richmond College Glee Club made quite an impact not only on the Richmond community but also on various communities around Virginia. The Glee Club was led by Charles Troxell. Earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Richmond, Troxell was an oratorio tenor and worked as choral teacher in Richmond, Virginia for many years, beginning in the 1920s. Throughout the city of Richmond, and eventually throughout the state of Virginia, he led the Glee Club as they performed minstrel shows and Negro spirituals. Minstrel shows, which originated in the 1840s, were created and written by White people to perpetuate stereotypes of Black people and were typically done in blackface. Negro spirituals were written by slaves regarding their suffering and despair, and how they would overcome.

Not only was the performances of the Glee Club problematic, so, too, was the overwhelming support from the University and the Richmond community. In an article from the University’s student newspaper, The Collegian, the author describes one instance of the Glee Club performing Negro spirituals as “excellent work,” and a “fine type of presentation” (Collegian 1933). A few months later that same year, another article that detailed a performance by the Glee Club was published in the Collegian. This time, the author discussed the University-sanctioned expansion of the Glee Club’s program and its major success in increasing support of its minstrel shows. The overwhelming support by the University and the Richmond community tells a tale of a longstanding cultural appropriation at the expense of Black people.

Though these articles were published in the early 1930s and performances of minstrel shows and Negro spirituals declined at Richmond after the 1970s, one has to wonder: How does cultural appropriation look today? Also, more specifically, how does cultural appropriation exist and look at the University of Richmond today?

Today, it is not common for groups and organizations to engage in cultural appropriation through the performances of Negro spirituals and minstrel shows. However, there has been a trend over the past few years of White rappers culturally appropriating Black culture in other ways. For example, Australian-born rapper Iggy Azalea exists in popular culture today as a modern-day minstrel. Azalea learned to “make a huge career for herself by mimicking the vocal patterns and phrases of a Southern black girl” (Zimmerman 2014). Azalea is not from the South, nor does her identity have any roots in the South. However, she appropriated Black culture for fame and profit. She does not physically wear blackface, but her appropriation of Black culture classifies her as a modern-day minstrel.

At the University of Richmond today, White rapper “Lil Dicky” provides a fascinating site for discussion. Born David Andrew Burd, rapper Lil Dicky graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Richmond’s E. Claiborne Robins School of Business. Though he may not explicitly acknowledge it, he plays an active role in cultural appropriation in the music industry and popular culture today. In a 2014 interview with New York Hip Hop Radio Station Hot97, Lil Dicky admits that he initially had little interest in rapping, saying that he “started rapping simply to get attention comedically, so [he] could write movies, write TV shows and act” (Lucas G. 2015). This quote exposes the underlying appropriative nature of the rapper’s career. While hip hop originated as a way for Black and Latino communities to relay their stories about injustice, poverty, and racism, rappers such as Lil Dicky have used it as a way to assert their White privilege. Many of the current students at Richmond are avid fans of Lil Dicky, even advocating for him to be one day be the homecoming performer, which poses the question of what that indicates about the University’s views on cultural appropriation today.

It has been over eighty years since the articles about the Richmond College Glee Club were written. The University community, however, still actively supports cultural appropriation at the expense of Black people. The archive presents us with various examples of the University’s problematic views and how they were manifested in the early to late 20th century. Though no organizations on campus are performing in blackface or singing Negro spirituals any more, the support from students for artists such as Lil Dicky raises a vital question: How much have the University’s views on race and cultural appropriation truly progressed?

 

Destiny Riley is a sophomore from Maumelle, Arkansas majoring in Rhetoric & Communication Studies and minoring in Sociology. She wrote this blog post in response to research she conducted during her Spring 2017 Independent Study (RHCS 387), during which she developed content for the Race & Racism at the University of Richmond Project. Specifically, she was a member of a team that developed the digital exhibit, “Performance & Policy: Construction of Race Through a Musical Lens.”

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