Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Ratting

Rat Week was an annual freshman hazing event that was held at the beginning of each school year for both Richmond College and Westhampton College. Although it was composed of assorted hazing activities, it commonly involved racist imagery and Lost Cause ideology.

"A freshman is a rat. And for the first six weeks of school, the seniors are the crème de la crème. The juniors are kind of getting there. The sophomores are the people who rat the freshman. And they're the people who get to say, ‘You do this. You do that.’… part of the reason that I am the class of '49, although I got my bachelors in August of '48, because I went every summer, the class of '48 ratted me, and that was such an experience that I did not want to have anything to do with them for a long time. 

For instance, I made up, one of the gals that I later worked with, and had a very hard time getting passed the memory that I had made up her damn bed 25 times one morning. Every time I'd get it made up, she'd jerk it back and say, ‘Well, that looks wrinkly, freshman.’"

-Betty Ann Dillon, WC’48, M.A.’49, Former Trustee of the University

The power structure of campus reinforced by the Rat Week hazing rituals can also be characterized as abusive based on this tradition. Young women coming to campus for the first time were taught that if someone is older than them or more experienced, then they have the right to force them to do things for them and this is a “fun” and “bonding” experience that promotes “unity.” This abusive power structure is more concerning in the larger context of women learning to accept a subservient role, which could carry over to other areas of life, such as marriage. Further, the racist symbolism had nothing to do with the entering college as a freshman-- it was simply a tool in hazing activities. Clearly, racism and Lost Cause ideology were embedded in many UR traditions. This is also visible in other campus institutions, such as greek life.

 

In this 1931 "rat parade," freshmen walk by in embarrassing and silly garb for the amusement of the upperclassmen. Some are wearing blackface while others wear bras, presumably dressing up as women. Blackface was clearly seen as something “embarrassing,” therefore degrading an entire race and its members to the position of being ashamed of their color. Blackface was a large part of social life for students on campus, with it being included in costumes such as those at rat week, and also in the common practice of minstrel performance

The bottom two photographs were published in 1962 yearbook in the Westhampton freshmen section. It portrays freshmen women participating in Rat Week while holding Confederate flags, demonstrating the presence of Lost Cause ideology in campus traditions.

These are the "rap caps" that the freshman would wear during the hazing events. The purpose of the caps were to make is specifically clear who was a freshman, and who wasn't. Three of the caps are from Richmond College during 1940, 1941, and an unknown year. The green and white cap is a Westhampton ratting cap. 

Westhampton ratting continued until the WC Senate voted to discontinue the program in 1970. The Senate committee had conducted a study of the ratting program that found that students, faculty, and alumni favored an end to ratting. The article suggested that ratting may be replaced with some type of service project for freshman. The vice president of Westhampton College was quoted as saying "'Ratting was forcing unity on freshman.'" Interestingly, this change happened two years after the first black students arrived at campus. In 1971, the Richmond College Senate had decided to suspend the playing of “Dixie” at sporting events in an attempt to recruit black students and have a more comfortable campus environment for them. In the years following integration, the campus culture experienced shifts which put the University on course towards becoming a more progressive campus.

Ratting