Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Dining Hall Racism and Segregation Post-1968

The arrival of full-time Black students at the University of Richmond and the official desegregation of the Richmond and Westhampton dining halls marks the beginning of a new, more implicit form of racism that takes its shape in social separation, isolation and alienation. Students hoped that the unification of the Richmond and Westhampton dining halls into a centralized facility called the E. Bruce Heilman Dining Center, or “D-hall” for short, would strengthen relations among students. In reality, D-hall remains segregated as a result of a variety of seemingly non-racial factors: including the historically white Greek system of fraternities and sororities and the physical layout of the hall itself. This page highlights various Collegian articles discussing the evolution of this new form of social segregation, along with various minority student experiences with dining services, in order to prove that the segregationist policies observed on the first page of this exhibit persist in some degree in contemporary discussions of dining services.

Does Greek life promote Segregation in University Dining Halls?

Take a trip to the Heilman Dining Center today and you are bound to notice a seating arrangement that separates students affiliated with historically white Greek life from non-Greek affiliated students. According to articles written in the University newspaper the Collegian, this segregation began right away once the central dining hall was created in 1982. How, and why, did this unspoken social segregation originate? The below Collegian articles provide clarity. 

Article "UR staff and students combat trash in Central Dining Facility"

"UR staff and students combat trash in Central Dining Facility" by Tracy Lankow, 1985

This article suggests a potential reason for this separation of fraternities from other students. On October 16, a dinner with University Food Services and representatives from the fraternities and University Student Union addressed the increasing amount of complaints from students, faculty members and families about the Heilman Dining Center’s messy state. One suggestion included designating certain areas of the dining halls to specific fraternities and groups “so that students will have more pride in their area." We believe that this suggestion may have contributed to the separation of Greek life from non-Greek life that still permeates D-hall today.

 The Persistence of Segregation 

Article "Reasons Vary for Dining Hall Segregation"

"Reasons Vary for Dining Hall Segregation" by Aimee Bayle, 1991

In the 1990s, a series of articles appear in the Collegian concerning the unspoken presence of social segregation among students at the Heilman Dining Center. Although the articles explain how students sit with people they are most comfortable with, this can often have a negative impact on social interactions between all students. The dining hall's segregation occurs primarily on two fronts: Greek life affiliation and gender. Many students attribute this segregation to the fact that fraternities and sororities do not have their own on-campus housing; therefore they consider the dining hall as a place to make Greek affiliation visible. Another potential reason is that until 1982, campus dining was completely segregated between men and women as a result of the coordinate college system.

Article "E. Bruce etiquette: dining hall dos and don'ts"

"E. Bruce etiquette: dining hall dos and don'ts" by Beth Ranson, 1993

The physical layout of the dining hall, divided into three rooms, only worsens the segregation of students. This Collegian article maps out the exact yet unofficial seating arrangements of students in D-hall as of 1993. The right room is dominated by Greek life, the middle room is for athletic teams, and the left room is for anyone else. 26 years later, in 2019, D-hall still bears a striking resemblance. This is telling of the fact that the University has done little to fix this issue, and also that many students still do not see it as a problem. 

Dining Hall Food and Lost Cause Ideology

Staff Editorial "And just how were grits invented anyway?"

"And just how were grits invented anyway?" by Scott Shepard, 1992

This Collegian article, written by staff editorialist Scott Shepard, is a prime example of how even the Heilman Dining Center’s food can potentially incite racial tensions. This telling of the history of the Southern food “grits” celebrates the bravery of Confederate soldiers and the generosity of Jefferson and Varina Davis, President and First Lady of the Confederacy, during the “fight for self-determination,” also known as the Civil War. This article is included in this exhibit not to suggest that grits are racist, but instead to prove how old southern culture and Civil War memory is expressed in food served at the Heilman Dining Center at the time of this article's publication. While one student might read this article and think of it as a humorous depiction of southern culture and pride, another may be reminded of the school’s promotion of Lost Cause Ideology: a call for the return of old Southern ideals, one of which was the enforcement of slavery.

Dining Hall Decorations

Feature "Student panel addresses racism at Richmond"

"Student panel addresses racism at Richmond" by Catherine Sinclair, 2014 

As described in this online 2014 Collegian article, sophomore Destiny LeVere decided to lead a student panel hosted by her Sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. This panel, titled “Race at Richmond,” addressed a variety of issues with race and racism, and took place at the end of Black History Month. Among the issues discussed was, “the Black History Month dinner at the Heilman Dining Center, which featured decorations depicting a wheelbarrow with cotton and offended some students”. Although images and other articles about these decorations could not be located, we do know that this was not the first time D-hall has decorated as such for Black History Month.

Student Dining Hall Opinions and Experiences 

The three articles below represent three opinions and experiences relating to the Heilman Dining Hall’s segregation. Note that these experiences do not represent all minority student experiences at the University of Richmond. However, this exhibit is focused on giving those who do feel unfomortable the space int his discussion of on-campus dining. 

Article "UR not always a positive experience for all minority students"

"UR not always a positive experience for all minority students" by Doug Hanks, 1992. 

"When he arrived at the University, he said he felt comfortable as a black student. Then he wandered to the dining hall for dinner. 'I walked in and realized I was the only black person in the cafeteria'"

This article, written by student Doug Hanks, includes an experience that a Black student named Eric Freeman had at the Heilman Dining Center. At the time of this article’s publication in 1992, there were 88 Black undergraduates, only 3.5% of the student body. Students interviewed for this article share the same opinion that although the University offers academic opportunity, it inhibits Black students from having the same social life as white students. For some students, one place of such alienation and isolation is D-hall.

Feature "Meet John Loong from Hong Kong..."

"Meet John Loong from Hong Kong..." by John Wai-Chun Loong, 2004

The dining hall not only makes some Black students feel uncomfortable, but also international students. Chinese student John Wai-Chun Loong says that he had to break out of his comfort zone at the Heilman Dining Center and join groups that celebrated diversity on campus. He urges students to extend their “mental safety zones” when choosing a seat in the dining hall.

"When everyone is a potential friend, choosing a seat is easy." 

Fifty years later, this 2004 editorial in the Collegian revisits the pivotal Supreme Court case Brown vs. the Board of Education, and concludes that :

“any trip to the dining hall will reveal the fact that students seem to naturally segregate themselves.”

Reiterating the concerns of past students, this unnamed author addresses the student body’s lack of commitment to diversity, and that the de-segregation of the University of Richmond is the responsibility of all students.

Dining Hall Racism and Segregation Post-1968