Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Browse Exhibits (17 total)

Silence in the Archives: The Case of Russell Jones


“ A petition was drawn and sent to the Board of Trustees and the President asking for no discrimination against any race at any future interracial affair. Today this petition is being given the well known cold shoulder by everyone involved.” - University of Richmond Collegian newspaper, 1944. 

Russell Jones

On February 16, 1944, Russell Jones, an African-American Virginia Union University student, was forced to dine separately from white students at the University of Richmond. Russell Jones was the former chairman of the Richmond Intercollegiate Council -- a council formed by students from several Virginia institutions such as: Virginia Union, Richmond Professional Institute and Medical College of Virginia (now known collectively as Virginia Commonwealth University), the University of Richmond and more.  One of the main goals of the RIC, as Jones himself described, was to “... get closer understanding among the students of the colleges in this city, and especially between the students of the two races…” (Collegian, 1944). Part of this effort was an event in which Jones was invited by the Young Women’s Christian Association to speak on the University of Richmond campus. Following his speech, Russell Jones found himself barred, amidst student protest, from joining the students for a meal because of his race.

Speaking through Silence

This exhibit will focus on how the Russell Jones’ case both influenced, and was already part of, a larger conversation at the University of Richmond. During the time that Jones was separated from the white students, the University of Richmond had yet to allow African-American students to attend. It was not until 1968 when the first residential African-American student was allowed to attend an integrated University of Richmond. To examine these conversations, however, we must acknowledge that one voice is missing from the story: the voice of Russell Jones himself.  The lack of documentation prevents this exhibit from telling Russell Jones’ story, and it must instead use Jones’ case as a lens through which we explore the conversations on race that happened amongst the students and administration at UR -- both those for and against bettering race relations between whites and African Americans.


This exhibit will feature a variety of sources. Articles from the Collegian newspaper, correspondence between the students and administration -- namely president F.W. Boatwright, Dean May Keller, Board of Trustees, etc. -- and local news and events, such as the Virginius Dabney Proposal, will be utilized in order to deconstruct the conversations on race that were happening during this time. The metadata suggests a number of opposing views influenced by gender, religion, and age. Yet, we recognize that we are limited by the availability of source material. Therefore, we acknowledge that we cannot fully represent the mindset of the Richmond campus during this time. However, with our evidence, we can develop an improved understanding of the complex relationships of race at the University of Richmond.  



"Come On, Kids, Let's Snooze." The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 12, (April 14, 1944): 2. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19440414.2.11&srpos=2&e=01-01-1939-31-12-1945--en-20--1--txt-txIN-negro+speaker-ARTICLE-----#

"Intercollegiate Council Seeks Active Members." The Richmond Collegian XXX, no. 8, (February 8, 1944): 1. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19440218.2.2&srpos=6&e=------194-en-20--1--txt-txIN-RIC----1944--#



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Student Life and White Supremacy


In 1914, when Richmond College moved to the University's current location, Westhampton College for women opened as well. Most of the students in these coordinate colleges were white, and many were from Virginia or nearby states. Though there were a few international students present at the time, student life was dominated by clubs and other organizations that catered to the interest of white students. 

In this exhibit, we explore questions about the role cultural geography plays in memory, performance, and championing whiteness. In their article “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric,”  Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizek suggest that we ought to “examine whiteness as a rhetorical construction and discuss the ways in it re-secures its central position” (292). Located in the capital of the former Confederacy, the University of Richmond provides us with materials through which to gain unique insight into the culture of white supremacy during the early 1900s. Documents about student life at the University during this time enable us to examine campus culture and race relations more closely. The pages of this exhibit analyze how white supremacy was maintained on the University of Richmond’s campus through everyday life and culture in the forms of performances, clubs, and literary works.


Nakayama, Thomas K., and Robert L. Krizek. "Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric." Quarterly Journal of Speech 81, no. 3 (1995): 291-309. doi:10.1080/00335639509384117.



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Students of Color at UR


Item # 308: "Westhampton's YWCA Is Involved," The Collegian, 1971. 

This exhibit looks at representations of students of color at the University of Richmond between 1946 and 1971 along with student anti-racist advocacy. We use the phrase "students of color" to refer to African American, Latino/a, and Asian student. In so doing, we acknowledge that these students did not share a singular experience as minorities at a predominantly white university. 

Despite the presence of students of color during this period, many of their experiences are not reflected in the documents from which the exhibit draws. Many of the students voicing their opinions on racism and desegregation were themselves white. Typically students of color are discussed from an outsider's perspective, presented and written about by white students and administrators, whose opinions had a wide and often conflicting range. Despite rarely having their own voice in the university's history, there are examples of students of color creating a space and expressing themselves despite the white majority. There is evidence of the development of a racial consciousness to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.  

In her essay "Expanding the Ivory Tower: Radicalism and Black Student Life at the University of Richmond", Victoria Charles explores how black students became activists at the University of Richmond. She argues, "The black students that started entering the University of Richmond were radical because they shifted the existing student organizations, the aims of the administration, and racial demographics of the school. The decision to come to Richmond despite its image and the racial turmoil occurring in the world was bold. Once black students were settled in at the university they joined social organizations and sports teams and effectively sprinkled black faces and black perspectives onto formerly all-white spaces."  Students were able to change the progression of the University by fighting for their voices to be heard with the help of other students on campus. This exhibit will eventually be expanded to capture the voices of these students.

This exhibit explores the representation of students of color and anti-racist advocacy, as reflected in the Collegian, alumni bulletins, and university correspondence. Additional work developing content on the experiences of students of color to come.

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Students of Color in The Messenger


Students of Color in the Messenger

This exhibit uses the lens of the Messenger literary magazine to explore the experiences of students of color at the University of Richmond at multiple points during the twentieth century. In it, you will be introduced to four students of color who contributed to the Messenger by their own words. Alongside their written works are brief biographies and some context about the University and Messenger around the time their pieces were published. To learn more about each item in this exhibit, just click on its photo.

The University of Richmond was and is an unwelcoming and, at times, hostile place for students of color. Some of these students have made a place for themselves in the school’s literary magazine, at times alongside white students whose prose and art employed racist stereotypes. Each of the students you will meet in this exhibit responded in different ways to different issues. It is important to note that their experiences cannot represent those of students of color as a whole.

A Brief History of the Messenger's Relationship with Race

The Messenger literary magazine was first published on the Richmond College campus in 1876 as Monthly Musings. Through the years, many students from Richmond and Westhampton Colleges have submitted prose, poetry, drama, essays, artwork, and more to the publication. Bouts of student apathy have made its acceptance rate and release schedule change by the decade. Some issues boast of only including the best of many submissions while others claim they contain everything that was submitted. As far as frequency of publication, a single issue each year became standard in the 1960s.  At some points in the Messenger’s history, it has accepted pieces from faculty and community members. The Messenger has featured a limited number of works by students of color throughout its run, and most have been from the past decade.

Until the 1960s, most works by white students that featured characters of color were racist and played off of stereotypes. However, there were a few students of color during the twentieth century that made a place for their work in this magazine among these works that exhibited a lack of respect for them.

While racist works were in many of the Messenger's issues in the early twentieth century, they fell off of the radar in the early 1960s, likely due to the Civil Rights Movement and changing attitudes toward awareness of race. This is certainly not to say that the University of Richmond campus was no longer racist, but the portrayal of people of color in such a dehumanizing light was now out of taste. Anti-racist cartoons were published in the 1964 and 1965 issues of the Messenger, and race was not written of in the magazine again for years despite many photos of unnamed, non-student black people being featured during this time.

It was in the 1980s that the Messenger began to talk about race again, albeit in a more positive light than before. The decade saw a handful of pieces about race relations by white students and established the magazine as a more welcoming platform for students of color than it had been in the past. What is believed to be the first piece by a black student was featured in 1984. Since then, more students of color have written about their experiences for the Messenger.

The Black Student Experience at the University of Richmond main campus: (1970 - 1992)


Introduction (1970 -1973):


The University of Richmond’s black student integration experience is a tale of feet dragging by the University administration, threats of defunding from the federal government, and some resistance from the student body.  University of Richmond jumped through hurdles to avoid integration and maintain federal funding after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, complete with creating University College to cater to the “nontraditional” student. In 1968 the University of Richmond had its first full time black student enrolled in Richmond College, Barry Greene. Black students at UR had to fight to cultivate spaces for themselves where their opinions were acknowledged as legitimate, and their experiences were not discredited within the predominately white institution.

In 1971 an article was published by the Collegian called, “Product of Neglect: The Absence of A Black Social Life,” in which students addressed the need for more black students on campus, claiming that students had to travel to neighboring universities for a social life. At the time of the article there were ten black men and three black women enrolled at UR.  University of Richmond branded itself as a white, Baptist, local, private university. As a result, it had trouble recruiting black students. Articles from the Collegian however, push for greater consideration on the amount of effort that was put into black student recruitment past what was necessary to receive federal funding. In 1973 the Collegian published an article called "Registrars Seek to Overcome 150 Years Of Black Exclusion." In the article the Director of Admissions at Westhampton College, Mary Allen Anderson, said, “We have more applicants now than we will ever have beds for, thus there is really no sensible reason for an active recruiting program.” In the same article, however it says that Richmond College participated in Project Access and the National Scholarship for Negro Students list in an attempt to recruit students.

Racism was not eradicated with the admission of the first black students to UR.  In 1971 the Richmond College Student Government Association (RCSGA) passed a resolution for the school band to stop playing Dixie at university functions. The song Dixie was born out of blackface minstrel shows and became the unofficial battle song of the Confederacy. The song is a symbol of segregation and slavery. The resolution was overturned however by a majority of the student body claiming the song was of “traditional historic value” according to an article called “366 Students Cheer ‘Dixie’,” published in 1971. Black students continued to feel ostracized by the song. Norman Williams claimed that the song reminded him of the Old south, slavery, and bondage. Instead of the University getting involved and distancing itself from symbols of the Confederacy, Thomas N. Pollard Jr., the Richmond College Registrar, in response to black students saying they would not have come to UR had they heard the song played on campus before their admission, said that black recruits would never find out the song is played, calling it a “so-so” issue.  Pollard’s response exemplifies the University’s indifference and lack of interest in creating an environment where black students were welcomed.

Not only did black students have to fight for acknowledgment and legitimacy from the administration, but also from their fellow peers. G. Edmond Massie in a Collegian Forum published in 1971 called “Bigotry from a Minority,” said, “The current furor over the playing of “Dixie” and any display of the Confederate flag…Both supposedly representing “racism” … is a prime example of bigotry in its most potent form: a minority attempting to force its will on the majority.” Additionally, 366 students voted against the Dixie resolution believing the song was of historical value while only 276 voted for it. Although the vote in support of Dixie won, almost half of the student body supported black students and voted against it.

Black students did not have spaces for themselves on campus where their feelings, opinions, and right to be students were not questioned. There were no black faculty or administrators on campus; the only black adult face students would have seen would have been the custodians or the gardeners. This exhibit will explore the acts of activism, intentional or not,  by black students through their experience at UR in their creation of clubs and organizations. Additionally, it will explore the tension that existed between black students and the administration in their attempt to be integrated into the campus.



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The Title IX Controversy at UR


“No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

— Preamble, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972


This exhibit illustrates the tensions between the University of Richmond and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education in the early 1980s concerning the implementation of Title IX within the University’s athletic department. We will explore the investigation begun by the OCR given the receipt of a complaint against the University of Richmond alleging sex discrimination in athletics. More importantly, this exhibit will uncover the response undertaken by the university: one of denial to proceed with the investigation, to the extent that it sued the Secretary of Education, Terry H. Bell, for intruding in a program that did not receive federal funding. This suit was eventually won by the University of Richmond, and it set a precedent for similar cases of federal investigations on private colleges and universities.

It is worth noting that according to the official website of the U.S. Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX of the Education Amendments, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX applies to all institutions that receive federal financial assistance. These institutions must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner or federal funds will be withdrawn. Moreover, it is within the obligations of the OCR to evaluate, investigate, and resolve complaints alleging sex discrimination.

This exhibit was created by Katie Brennan, Elizabeth Mejía-Ricart, and Alexa Mendieta. 

Westhampton College Traditions


In recent years there have been controversies surrounding one Westhampton College’s most cherished events: Ring Dance. In 2015, the University changed the some of its policies surrounding Ring Dance, such as instructing women to wear a black dresses instead of white ones, as well as disallowing escorts. The changes were subsequently broken and made for a tumultuous event. Although the policy changes were well-intentioned and “meant to ‘align the Ring Dance with the inclusive missions of Westhampton College and the University of Richmond,’” many students still feel excluded from the event. Despite the financial assistance for Ring-Dance related cost given to students who qualify, the event still manages to exclude those who are not comfortable with the event, such as if they do not have a father, think they cannot afford to attend, do not conform to typical gender norms, or do not see people of their race attending in years past.

The University of Richmond has a coordinate college system, meaning that it has a college for women, Westhampton College, and a college for men, Richmond College. The lake separates the two sides of campus, and it wasn’t until 2002 that men and women began living on both sides of the lake. Each college has its unique traditions as well.

Traditions, such as Ring Dance, help connect generations, and highlight values that the group considers to be important. Through time, many of Westhampton College's traditions have slowly faded away. These traditions, although relics of the past, provide a glimpse into the college's past, forming the white, upper class definition of womanhood on campus. This exhibit features four Westhampton College traditions or organizations: The Women’s Lifestyle Committee, the annual Panty Raids, May Day, and Rat Week. It will examine aspects of each that contributed to a campus culture of racism, classism, and sexism. 


This exhibit was created by Catherine Franceski ('20) as part an A&S Summer Research Fellowship in summer 2018.