Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Panty Raids

Beginning in the 1950s, an annual "panty raid" tradition took place on campus when Richmond College students would cross over the bridge to the Westhampton side of campus. Westhampton women would throw panties to the men from their dorm windows. Many quotes downplay the experience of the women as being willing participants, when in fact, they oftentimes had their rooms broken into, property stolen, and dormitories damaged. The tradition reflects expectations of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles, as well as a heteronormative school culture.

Although initially bizarre and silly, upon further inspection, the panty raid tradition is deeply troubling as a representation of toxic masculinity. A comprehensive definition of “toxic masculinity” from the Teaching Tolerance project by the Southern Poverty Law Center states, “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”  

The panty raid tradition subjugates men to an narrow and animalistic role as they run to raid the women’s underwear, clearly a pseudo sexual conquest. The men are also put into a role as a perpetrator of violence as the men intrude into a woman’s space, without invitation, steal things, and damage property. Because toxic masculinity is part of the bedrock of rape culture, the tradition deserves scrutiny. Although the tradition itself does not create toxic masculinity, it provides a forum for it to permeate, as well as normalizing the violent and hyper masculine behaviors that the tradition involves.

In the 1979 yearbook, the event is described satirically saying, "The co-ed shrieks as the panting wild eyed men, feverish with desire, grope for her panties." It then continues, "The scene does not seem nearly as sordid when one realizes that the girl in question, along with the other members of her hall, are carrying on this ceremony from the second floor of their dorm, safely out of reach of their assailants, and armed with an arsenel of trash cans filled with water. Having thus prepared themselves after discerning the tell-tale pre-Panty Raid ritualistic eries from across the lake, the girls are more than equal to the task of cooling their male counterpart's ardor."

One year, a nude masked woman began dancing on the ledge of a third-story window. One Richmond College freshman is quoted as saying "'I had an image of southern, modest girls and I was surprised, but not disgusted.'" According to the article, "other girls said it was 'disgusting' and 'unfortunate that she felt obligated to entertain the guys in that manner.'"

The 1976 panty raids were different in that in one of the two panty raids that occured over the span of two weeks, some 200 Richmond College men stormed into the building, entered the Westhampton students' dorms, and stole undergarments. The article also mentions "the thoughtless mob of men, hell bent on 'have fun', proceeded to drench the carpeting in Gray Court with water, thus ruining it. To replace it will cost several hundred dollars and will prevent other needed repair work from being done on the women's dorms." The damage created by the men negatively affected the environment and comfort of the women.

The 1982 pantry raid also resulted in damage to dorms. That year's yearbook refers to water damage and says that the police had to get involved.

Panty Raids