Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Dining Hall Racism and Segregation Pre-1968

“The peak of social life is eating together, in fact, that is high life,”

says a Westhampton College student under the alias "Madame Wulfston" in this 1930 Richmond Collegian article. Although this article clearly addresses the issue of socialization between Richmond College men and Westhampton College women, the above quote begs the following questions: who is allowed to eat together, and who is barred from participating in the peak of social life? At the time of this article's publication, the University's answer was that white men and women should partake in the social act of communal dining, however, Black University of Richmond guests were not welcome to do so. 

Racism was an integral part of the University of Richmond’s dining services long before the arrival of the first residential Black students in 1968. Although the University strove to uphold Southern Baptist morals, Richmond and Westhampton College regularly excluded Black students and guest speakers from eating and socializing at their respective dining halls. This page presents a variety of explicitly racist incidences, including three instances of the exclusion of Black people at University dining halls from 1944 to 1958, along with the responses by students and administrators. It is also important to note that prior to 1982, dining halls were also divided by gender. Thus, Richmond men dined at the “Refectory” in the current Sarah Brunet building and Westhampton College women dined at the main dining hall located in the current North Court building.

Article "Y.W.C.A. Cabinet Presents Minstrel Show"

"Y.W.C.A. Cabinet Presents Minstrel Show: Young Ladies Act as End-Men and Have Jolly Evening." From The Richmond Collegian IV, no. 8 (November 23, 1917). 

At the time of the above Collegian article in 1917, the only Black people allowed in the Richmond and Westhampton College dining halls were Food Service employees. To begin this page on racism in campus dining before the arrival of the first full-time Black students, it is important to include racist actions directed toward these employees. For example, this article summarizes a minstrel show held in the Westhampton dining hall, hosted by the Young Women’s Cristian Association (Y.W.C.A.). In their performances, actors often portrayed racist stereotypes accompanied by blackface and racist vernacular. In some cases, performers would portray Black servers waiting on white people. Minstrel shows held in the dining hall such as this one emphasize a long struggle of Food Service Employees to be treated by students and administrators as professionals in their field of work. 

 The Exclusion of Russell Jones in 1944

For more information and context regarding this incident, please see the exhibit "SILENCE IN THE ARCHIVES: THE CASE OF RUSSELL JONES" by Tawny Anderson, Taylor Block, Vishwesh Mehta, and Joshua Kim. 

Article "YWCA Hears Talk By Russell Jones"

"YWCA Hears Talk by Russell Jones." From The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 8, (February 18, 1944). 

In 1944, a council forms to specifically address intercollegiate relations. The Intercollegiate Council, comprised of eight college and graduate groups including both the Richmond College YMCA and Westhampton College YWCA, hosted Russell Jones, a Black student leader at Virginia Union. Jones was asked to give a speech at Westhampton promoting the Intercollegiate Council. This council was created to foster better race relations and racial awareness among students from different colleges.

Letter "Letter to the Editor..."

"Letter To The Editor" by Julia Willis, from The Richmond Collegian XXIX, no. 27, (February, 18 1944).

Although Russell Jones’ talk at Westhampton was intended to promote a better understanding of race relations among college students, some University of Richmond students were disappointed to find that Jones was forced to have lunch alone in a professor’s office. In February 1944, student Julia Willis penned a letter to the editor in the Collegian demanding a change to the segregationist rules that excluded Jones from eating at the University dining facilities.

Editorial "An Open Letter to the Student Body"

"An Open Letter to the Student Body" by Frederic William Boatwright, from The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 12, (April 14, 1957)

President Boatwright responds to the student petition submitted to the Board of Trustees and Administrative Offices by stating that although he had not heard of a formal policy set in place to exclude Black people from dining on campus, he will not be changing the University of Richmond’s “established custom”. This “established custom” of racism, discrimination and segregation remained intact for years to come. The case of Russell Jones shows that dining services on campus was a site of outright segregation amid student activism pushing against this segregation. 

Correspondence between Grover W. Everett and George M. Modlin in 1951

On October 31, 1951, Chairman of the Virginia Junior Academy of Science Committee Grover W. Everett asked George M. Modlin, president of the University of Richmond, if the University would accept “negro participation” at an academy-sponsored open house, where junior scientist exhibits could become eligible for state prizes. Everett explained that if the university were not willing to accept these young black scientists, the committee would organize a separate open house at a “negro college” for these participants. The letter poses a list of logistical questions regarding the possibility of inviting the Black junior scientists, including the question, “Would facilities off campus have to be found for meals or could these negros eat with the other junior scientists?”

A month later, President Modlin responds to Grover W. Everett’s letter. Modlin state that the University would not be able to provide adequate facilities for Black junior scientists looking to participate in the academy-sponsored open house, especially regarding on-campus dining. Modlin recommends that the Virginia Junior Academy of Science Committee pursue a separate open house for Black junior scientists, potentially at Virginia Union. This incidence highlights the failure of University of Richmond, and academic institution, to promote scholarship in academia due to its segregationist policies. It is clear that the aforementioned "established custom" of 1944 still mansfested itself in this incident. 

Segregationist Policies in 1958

Letter to the Editor "Letter to the Editor Presents Paradox Created by Policy"

"Letter to the Editor Presents Paradox Created by Policy," by Ken Burnette, 1958 

In 1958, yet another racist incident occurs due to the segregationist policies put in place in the University of Richmond dining halls. Student Ken Burnette pens a Letter to the Editor in the University Collegian after a young Nigerian student speaker was prohibited from eating and socializing at a dining hall on campus. This happened during Mission Emphasis Week—a Baptist Student Union-sponsored event focused on extending love “…to the people of all races and nationalities.” Burnette emphasizes the paradox of excluding Black speakers from dining on campus while claiming to promote racial understanding. This paradox is not limited to just this incident, since the University has been explicit in excluding Black guests from the social benefits of dining on campus up to this point. 

Editorial "Segregation Policy Hinders Hospitality"

"Segregation Policy Hinders Hospitality," 1958

“As far as our overall attitude goes, it seems we can have Negros speak to us, sing to us, be on our panel discussions, debate with us, participate in athletic events with us, and yet, not have them eat with us. On what basis does one draw the line?”

The Collegian article in which this quote appears is written in response to a young Nigerian women’s refused admittance to eat in the Westhampton College dining hall. This article critiques the segregationist policies set by the University and calls for their immediate removal. Note that the article also refers to a Supreme Court decision—most likely Brown vs. the Board of Education, as support for the end of segregationist policies at institutions of higher education.

From this article, it appears as though the University students are calling for the end of these racist policies against the "established custom" of exclusion held in place by University administration. Some students, such as the author of this article, recognize that the University allows Black people to socialize up to a point, never allowing these guests to reach the "peak of social life": eating together.  

Letter to the Editor "Student View: Student Hails End of Era At University"

"Student View: Student Hails End of Era At University" by Peter R. Neal, 1958

A year after the Nigerian student speaker was refused admittance to eat in the Westhampton dining hall, student Peter R. Neal looks toward the future. This Collegian piece explains that a Black basketball player was allowed to dine in Richmond’s dining hall, the “Refectory,” on November 7th, 1958. Neal then calls for the complete integration of the University of Richmond, along with an end to student apathy toward the topic of integration:

“It is time we in the South faced up to ourselves.”

Dining Hall Racism and Segregation Pre-1968