Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Faculty Response to Student Dissent

The Westhampton College Dean of Students, Clara M. Keith, submitted this annual report on student life to the Dean of Westhampton College, Dr. Mary Louise Gehring, and President George Modlin for the 1969-1970 school year.  

 

 

Disclaimer: Unlike the previous pages, this page focuses on one document written by one Westhampton College Faculty Member.  Although it provides a glimpse into faculty response to the evolving student body, it is only one small piece of the puzzle.  Which faculty members were supportive or maybe even joined students in their dissent from oppressive traditions?  Did some faculty members serve as advocates for this dissent and go before administration on students' behalf?  These are questions for further research.

 

Looking back, the 1960s and 1970s are characterized by dissent.  From the student sit-ins and marches to the liberatory movements, to the anti-war movement, dissent had touched every part of the nation.  Folks all over the country decided that it was time to organize a resistance, be it the government or systems of oppression like racism and sexism.  Oftentimes, the breeding grounds for this dissent were the college campuses-the University of Richmond included. 

This report, item #1870, was unique because there was apparently a dramatic shift in Westhampton College student life with the students' lifestyle, attitude, and mood resulting in a sudden change in the "traditional boundaries of education."  Students were demanding autonomy in areas such as sex, drinking, parietal hours, and self-government.  Dean Keith claimed that the students wanted the faculty and staff to care for them but not to let this concern turn into taking over the students' lives. There had been more open conversations "about sex and less promiscuity," but the Dean believed that the students were still ignorant of the dangers of drinking and venereal disease. The students also demanded more individualization of the learning process, including more freedom to choose their own courses. For the next portion of the report, Dean Keith described some of the subcultures she had noticed: the change conformer, absurd plastic hippies, and the system dissenters.  The "change conformers" were "straight, mostly middle-class students acting out of the permissive ideology of their parents."  They wanted curriculum change and more self-government immediately however within this group some students were more radical than others. The "absurd plastic hippies" "put on their wigs, beads, and perspiration stained Levis."  These students experimented with drugs like LSD, but only less than 1% were drug users.  The "system dissenters" were students who used "the dissent situation as a forum for (their) own inadequacies and is characterized by apathy, sham rebelliousness."  They wanted immediate change and created chaos, and although there are only a few, "enough naive ones (could) be led along this path."

 

We don't know the names of these students.  We don't know what they did on campus, and how their acts of rebellion spurred changes in the quality of students' lives. However, we do know that they made enough of an impact for the Dean of Students to dedicate the vast majority of her annual report to disparaging those engaging in dissent from the traditions and social norms of the University. We do know that this report was written in 1970, the dawn of new movements toward a more equitable society, particularly for black folks, women, and LGBT individuals. It seems fair to say that the overarching movement of challenging norms spilled onto the University of Richmond campus, and rather than responding to students seeking change with empathy, Dean Keith responded with a tone of contempt- completely dismissing the students by assuming that they were "acting out."  To avoid jumping too far to conclusions, there's an ample amount of information I don't have about Dean Keith- like her intentions behind the rhetoric she used.  However, that doesn't negate the fact that the way she described her more radical students impacts how we see them today.  Trying to read between the lines of this document and acknowledging its tone proves to be important as the legacy of these students is integral to the history of the university, yet this dismissal, in turn, played a role in their erasure.  Both then, and how we remember or don't remember them today.

 

Looking at this report at face value, I could have assumed that these subcultures were, in fact, "using the dissent situation as a forum for (their) own inadequacies and (were) characterized by apathy (and) sham rebelliousness."  However, these rebels were the same ones that were making a change on this campus in the name of change both academically and socially, and for that, I believe they deserve their place, their independence, and their liberation. So, here's to those with their "wigs, beads, and perspiration stained Levis."  Here's to the change conformers, the absurd plastic hippies, and the system dissenters.

 

Faculty Response to Student Dissent