This Week in the Archive: “Black Students Day Planned”

by Erin Tyra

Erin Tyra is a senior from Santa Fe, New Mexico, double majoring in Psychology and Rhetoric and Communication Studies. For Erin, this project has shed light on how the racial history of the University has directly impacted its present culture. Additionally, Erin feels the connections between the University and the city of Richmond provide an even more interesting perspective on how racial tensions have evolved over time. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

On March 19, 1971, The Collegian published an article titled “Black Students Day Planned” on the first page of the 58th issue. The article outlines the details of the upcoming “black student day” that students from the University of Richmond organized. Their goal for the event was to “familiarize the blacks with the University of Richmond and make them realize that Richmond has something to offer them.” One student who helped plan and execute the event was the Richmond Student Government Association president Steve Knock, who specifically noted that his goal for the event was to help “end the white, Southern reputation Richmond has developed over the years.” One hundred students from Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico were scheduled to spend the entire day on UR’s campus where they would attend  classes, eat lunch, attend the raft debate, and socialize with Richmond College and Westhampton College students. The article mentions that during this time, the University only had 12 black students attending (6 in each college), and that since this event brings high school students to the campus, black students day is also used as a recruitment tool, alluding to how the University was responding to the city’s struggle with school integration and diversification.

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A Campus Divided

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. Focusing on the experiences of black student athletes and other minority athletic groups in the 1970s and 1980s, Tegan Helms, Erin Tyra, and Caleb Ward created a podcast which includes an interview with Richmond College ’77 alum Rayford L. Harris, Jr. Using archival research, interviews, and their own experiences to piece together university history, the team found that the current state of the archive replicates structural inequalities. In their own words:

In Jarrett Drake’s speech, “Documenting Dissent in the Contemporary College Archive: Finding our Function within the Liberal Arts,” Drake challenges the functions of liberal arts institutions by arguing that “…the implicit function of the liberal arts college is to reproduce structural inequality.” We support Drake’s claim that liberal arts colleges perpetuate inequality through what is archived, who creates the archival material, and most importantly, what is left out of the archive. The Race & Racism Project at the University of Richmond exists to fill in the gaps of what is missing from the university’s archived history to help combat the structural inequality Drake argues exists. Although the University is now taking a new approach to put the pieces of history together, our sources still remain somewhat unreliable in revealing the entire scope of what really occurred during such crucial times. The university’s history will thus remain incomplete and inaccurate if we do not go back in time, critically analyze the third-party accounts, and hear from people like Rayford Harris and Tegan Helms about their experiences. The athletic culture at the University of Richmond has always and will continue to exist as a crucial component to the institution’s pride, reputation, and values, but the current records suggest otherwise, revealing the disconnect between archival sources on this campus.

Tegan Helms is a senior from Wilton, Connecticut, majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and minoring in Visual and Media Arts Practices. Erin Tyra is a senior from Santa Fe, New Mexico, double majoring in Psychology and Rhetoric and Communication Studies. Caleb Ward is a junior from Hampton, Virginia, and is majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies.

Click here to check out their podcast episode “A Campus Dividied” and accompanying post on memory.richmond.edu

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