This Week in the Archive: A Cloud of Change

by Tegan Helms

Tegan Helms is a senior from Wilton, Connecticut. She is majoring in Rhetoric and Communication Studies and minoring in Visual and Media Arts Practices. This project has been an eye-opening experience, exposing the way the University of Richmond has handled the development of race relations throughout the years. In addition, this project has instilled in her the rhetorical importance of research and records in shaping our history and memory on certain subjects. This post was written as a part of Digital Memory & the Archive, a course offered in Fall 2017.

This entry in The Collegian was the first of a series of editorials examining “The University Spirit” at the University of Richmond in 1968. The article published on February 16, 1968, titled “The University Spirit: Cloud of Gloom,” addresses the prevailing attitude among the student body of unhappiness with the school. This week’s article features the mutual distrust and disrespect between students and the upper echelons of the administration. According to the article, this distrust stemmed from poor communication, rigid rules, and a lack of progressiveness on part of certain university administration. “While it is understandable that their roots are in another generation–a generation very far removed from ours in many ways because of our current fast moving society–college educators should lead the way in keeping abreast of modern trends within society,” the article says.

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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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