Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Dominic Finney

"I am the soul who whispers the old, sweet spirituals in the wind / And drowns out the Voices of Failure."

-Dominic Finney, 1996

 

Dominic Finney

Dominic Finney was a black student in the Class of 1999 from Martinsville, Virginia. He was a CIGNA scholar, and was involved with the University Players and Dancers as well as the MSU (Multicultural Student Union). Finney returned to the University for graduate school, graduating in 2004.

"Who Am I?" by Dominic Finney, 1996.

In “Who Am I?” Dominic Finney asserts his identity as a member of a “colossal being” of black people. He addresses the reader as an oppressor and writes, "All of us need to look into each other's eyes and realize that we / Are all human beings." The poem describes slavery as “the torture that was endured for years and still / Silently exists today,” valuably illustrating Finney’s perception of his status as a black American. The poem is unapologetically proud of black American strength and resilience as it asks for more understanding and acceptance from an oppressive audience.

As Joe Williams wrote in 1983, the University of Richmond began to change how it branded itself in the 1980s. A 1996 Collegian article titled “Diversity increases” describes the Class of 2000, one year younger than Finney, as having “a record number of African-American students.” It notes that, in Finney’s class, there were thirty or thirty-five compared to the Class of 2000’s forty-five. In his oral history, Finney addresses the low number of black students at the University of Richmond and contrasts it with the level of diversity he had been used to at home, describing it as a “culture shock” when he realized how many white students there were. Nevertheless, he, in his own words, "fell in love with" the University of Richmond after finding comfort in the theater department. As mentioned, he returned to the University for graduate school.

In the Messenger, pieces by students of color were still few and far between. Throughout the 1990s, there were less pieces featuring characters of color than in the decade before it. One notable instance of race in the Messenger during the 1990s, however, is the pairing of an untitled photo of black children with the short story “The Tobacco Road.” The story tells of a rape attempt on a white woman during a trip to Africa and is unrelated to the photo that precedes it. Still, the smiling children are paired with this violent story, likely because of the story's African setting. Due to the design and layout of the magazine being in the hands of a Washington, D.C., designer at this time, it is unknown whether or not the pairing was the choice of a University of Richmond student.

Dominic Finney