This Week in the Archive: Black Students’ Recruitment Beyond Athletics

by Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart

Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart  is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is a sophomore at the University of Richmond who is double-majoring in Economics and Mathematics. Elizabeth is a Boatwright and Oliver Hill Scholar, who tutors at the Academic Skill Center. She has been involved with the Race and Racism Project since the summer of 2017, as an A&S Summer Fellow. She is excited to discover more about the University of Richmond’s past as she believes it is linked to the city of Richmond’s interesting history. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

In Alley’s University of Richmond, the author emphasizes the institution’s first integration of black students to the main campus by mentioning the admission of Barry Greene in 1968. (p. 98) However, I want to dig deeper into the effect and success of the integration of black people at the university, especially black women. In an article of the Collegian from September, 1971, Thomas N. Pollard Jr., Director of Admissions of Richmond College at the time reported that “definite but slow” progress was being made in the recruitment of blacks to the University of Richmond. (Tatum, 1971, p. 4) Linda Tatum, the author of the article reported the opinion of multiple black students at the time, and two main concerns arise: the lack of social life for black students and the disproportional amount of black women living on campus. Immediately after reading this article I start wondering: Why does it take longer to integrate black females than black males?

On December 7, 1978, multiple articles in the Collegian guided me to the answer to this question. The first one, titled “Recruiting Troubles Cited by Students” reported that “recruitment of blacks at the University of Richmond is concentrated in the athletic department”. The article emphasizes that a majority of black males were attracted to the university by the athletic scholarship programs; otherwise, they would not be able to afford it. Indeed, this lack of effort in recruiting black students outside of athletics was one of the main reasons why out of 45 black undergraduates at the time, only six were women. The financial burden as a cause for this imbalance is further emphasized by Valerie Collins, a black junior enrolled at the time. She states that “most of the black females are from middle-class families, who have grown up around predominately white neighborhoods”. She admitted growing up in an all-white neighborhood, as her father was a Baptist minister.

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The Title IX Controversy at UR

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, Katie Brennan, Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart, and Alexa Mendieta created a digital exhibit exploring the implementation of Title IX at the University of Richmond, and the lawsuit the university filed against the Department of Education in 1981 to avoid Title IX regulations. The university ultimately won this court case, stalling gender equity in college athletics at the University of Richmond and beyond. In their own words:

Compliance of Title IX guidelines was not fully finalized until the 2000s. As this exhibit has presented, while in the later years there was a conscious effort to strive towards an equal environment for female and male athletes, for many years before there was a conscious effort to deny and avoid to follow the regulation. Although it is important to highlight the progress made by the university in the recent decade, the magnitude of this progress cannot be fully appreciated unless we explore the setbacks and challenges faced by the university.

Kaitlin Brennan is a senior from Fairfield, Connecticut majoring in PPEL and Rhetoric & Communication Studies. Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is a sophomore at the University of Richmond who is double-majoring in Economics and Mathematics. Alexa Mendieta is senior from Apache Junction, Arizona majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies.

Click here to check out their exhibit “The Title IX Controversy at UR” on memory.richmond.edu

Sides, Strategy and Slavery in the Civil War

by Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart 

What is it like to be part of the losing side? For the German nation, for instance, it means conciliating with its problematic past and honoring those that were hurt by their actions in the wake of WWII. However, in other communities, like Richmond, having a controversial history still presents a challenge, which in most cases leads to defensiveness and denial. In particular, this inquiry guided me throughout the exhibit of the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar during my visit on Wednesday, June 21. In a chronologically organized presentation, the institution displayed the evolution of the Civil War, giving a particular emphasis to the significance and strategic use of slavery throughout the process. Still, the overarching theme displayed a rather interesting comparison between the North and the South, emphasizing non-apparent similarities between both sides of the dispute.

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Retelling Stories with Proper Language

by Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart 

How many times have you employed the term “slave” to refer to individuals whose identities would seem to rely on their status as property? Even I have been guilty of using this term multiple times to describe what really are “enslaved people.” Before my first encounter with founder of Untold RVA and community historian, Free Egunfemi, I would have never come to realize the ease with which I used what she calls “the language of the oppressor,” instead of that of the “oppressed.” Indeed, employing words such as “slaves” and “masters” to define groups of people allows for a dehumanization of the institution of slavery, and at the same time, reduces enslaved individuals to the position they held in society, treating them as property instead of people.

As part of Team 2 of the Race & Racism in the University of Richmond project, I have the opportunity to collaborate and work directly with Egunfemi, who aims to spread history throughout the Richmond community about the oppressed. In particular, I have paid close attention to the language she utilizes to empower those whose history has been silenced. As I began conducting research, I have kept Egunfemi’s careful wording in mind, and at the same time her themes of self-determination, resistance, and intersectionality in order to continue her mission of retelling history from the point of view of the oppressed.

My initial involvement in the project has included a close reading and examination of the book Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction by Midori Takagi. Fortunately, I was pleased to read stories of the oppressed uncovered by the aforementioned author. Takagi’s text clearly fits the guidelines given by Egunfemi for conducting research, giving enslaved persons a leading role in the history of slavery in Richmond. At the same time, her book highlights enslaved people’s self-determination, resistance, and the different ways slavery affected individuals according to their gender and other identities.

Although to the naked eye this book might seem a perfect example of what our team members are trying to document as activists and archivists, there is an important aspect which the book is lacking— the use of the language of the oppressed in the retelling of this group’s history. While I read Tagaki’s text, I could recognize that even though the author was narrating the story of an oppressed group through their own lenses, she was employing the language of the dominant race. Thus, my job as an archival activist was not done. It was my duty to tell the stories of marginalized groups such as enslaved persons, and document their histories of injustice using the terminology of the oppressed. I continued to document the anecdotes uncovered by Takagi in her book, but the keywords associated with the narrative were those that would paint a more vivid picture of the institution of slavery and that would portray these marginalized groups as people whose identities extend beyond their position in society.

Keywords such as enslaved person, human captor and human trafficker are the ones being used by Team 2 in an active effort to replace terms commonly employed in portraying the history of slavery, such as slave, master/owner, and slave trader. The language we are trying to perpetuate is one that not only emphasizes the severity and solemnity of the institution of slavery, but also acknowledges the individuals’ identity beyond the latter institution. Through our understandings of critical race theory, we recognize the prevalence of white privilege in the American society. The dominant classes have shaped the archival records for centuries, and therefore, they have imposed the language commonly used nowadays to refer to these stories. It is only fair for us, as collaborators of Untold RVA, to communicate those narratives that have been buried and unrecorded by the privileged groups, in a way that will honor the marginalized and resist the systems of dominance and oppression.

Ultimately, language is a powerful tool that can shape our conception of society, including the perpetuation of systems of oppression. In order to effectively challenge these structures and bring about social justice we need to start with a change in our expressions, supporting and validating those that have been silenced and oppressed. So, before you use the word “slave” or “master” again, ask yourself: Who am I empowering?

Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is a rising sophomore at the University of Richmond who is planning to major in Economics and minor in Mathematics. Elizabeth is a Boatwright and Oliver Hill Scholar, who is part of the University Dancers Company on campus. This is Elizabeth’s first experience as an A&S Summer Fellow, however, she is excited to discover more about the University of Richmond’s history and about the city itself through Untold RVA and her collaboration with Free Egunfemi.  

Prolonged Consequences of Segregational Structures in Richmond’s Urban Planning

by Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart 

Segregation, discrimination; these are words that describe a problem that seems long resolved in the privileged American mind. But is it really the case? Unfortunately, the city of Richmond attests that racial prejudice still persists nowadays, due to a failure to address its segregated foundation. In fact, according to Benjamin Campbell in his book Richmond’s Unhealed History, “the troubles that still afflict the culture of metropolitan Richmond have their roots in problems long denied, changes not attempted, prophecy unheeded, injustice unacknowledged.” (p. 150)

Urban planning in Richmond is just one of the many examples of how the segregational policies of the early 20th Century have prolonged consequences that extend to present times. As Campbell contends, in 1929 the city passed an ordinance that required that persons whom the state prohibited from marrying could not live next to each other. Essentially, segregation of neighborhoods was established between black and white individuals. This law had two main consequences. First, it determined housing quality, namely, housing for Richmond black residents was described as “disgraceful, inhuman, pestilential and in a civic sense entirely too costly to be tolerated by the people of this city”(Campbell, 143). Second, it led to redlining by all major Richmond banks. In the 1930s, the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) under the direction of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) rated American neighborhoods for their creditworthiness, using race as one of the major criteria to delineate between neighborhoods. Therefore, as Campbell highlights, every single African-American neighborhood was given the lowest rating and was redlined for mortgages.

Some people may argue that these segregational and discriminatory practices have no relevance nowadays, especially since urban renovation took place between 1955 and 1972. However, we must ask ourselves, who carried out these policies? As Campbell suggests, Richmond’s urban renewal project was in charge of white individuals “with little participation or input from the African- American community” (p. 159). More importantly, with the fragmentation of metropolitan cities into non-related segments, these policies continued to perpetuate segregational systems in Richmond. Nowadays, as a consequence of this urban renewal, we can observe a marked distinction between urban and suburban neighborhoods, which is mainly determined by the racial and class differences. Furthermore, as studies from the Richmond Urban Institute have demonstrated, great disparities in mortgage activity between black and white neighborhoods have persisted even after the discriminatory policies were reversed in the Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.

However distant words such as racial discrimination, inequality of opportunities and favoritism may seem to privileged Americans nowadays, it must be understood that these practices are still present in our society. It may not seem evident to some, but the truth is that remnants of a segregational foundation deeply affect Richmond’s spatial, social and economic structure. Thanks to the city’s fragmenting planning based on former racial and social characteristics, the interactions that take place are primarily homogeneous and its opportunities continue to be inherently unequal.

Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart is from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She is a rising sophomore at the University of Richmond who is planning to major in Economics and minor in Mathematics. Elizabeth is a Boatwright and Oliver Hill Scholar, who is part of the University Dancers Company on campus. This is Elizabeth’s first experience as an A&S Summer Fellow, however, she is excited to discover more about the University of Richmond’s history and about the city itself through Untold RVA and her collaboration with Free Egunfemi.      

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