Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

The Modern Messenger

Article "Messenger Run by Students for First Time"

"Messenger Run by Students for First Time" by Seth C. Hayden, 2001.

The Messenger has been completely student-run and -created since 2001. Until this point, students had submitted and accepted pieces, but the final magazine’s design and layout had been in the hands of off-campus designers. The editorial staff at the time claimed that past issues had not “reflected the atmosphere of the Richmond campus” despite the contents being student-curated.

The Messenger of recent years has seen an increase of involvement from students of color. Many of the pieces by these students address their feelings toward their own race and ethnicity, and society’s perception of the two. Below, you’ll find some more recent pieces from the Messenger.

While there is a marked increase in diverse content that began in the 1980s, the campus climate is still very segregated. In 2019, the University of Richmond ranked ninth on the Princeton Review’s list of schools with “little race/class interaction.” The shift in the Messenger’s content occurred around the same time that the University began branding itself as a “diverse” campus. It is important to note, though, that students have always gotten the final word on what is included in the magazine, and its contents were not changed by the administration to peddle its increasingly diverse student body. As I hope this exhibit has expressed, student initiative changed the literary magazine to become into a more inclusive space than the University it is affiliated with. This initiative was taken by both participating students of color and the Messenger's editorial staff.

I chose to tackle this topic because, as a current design editor for the Messenger, I was interested to discover more about the magazine’s place on the campus. Being familiar with the more inclusive issues of the past few years, I wasn’t expecting to find the racist pieces that were included in earlier issues. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so surprised that early twentieth century pieces included, for example, racial slurs or one-dimensional, stereotypical characters of color, but the possibility had never crossed my mind. Finding Chack Kwong Wong’s “Nostalgia,” however, provided a different way for me to approach the history of the Messenger. Among the many white students and racist works, there have been students of color on campus crafting their own space in the literary magazine for decades. This exhibit stemmed out of Wong's poem, and I am thrilled with the student writers that I was able to find for it. While they cannot represent all students of color, their voices and participation in spite of the University’s unwelcoming climate are valuable and provide a new lens for understanding the varying experiences of students of color here at the University of Richmond.

The Modern Messenger