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The Russell Jones case is a fitting example of student activism and race relations conversations on the University of Richmond campus. The exclusion of Jones from the dining hall highlights a divide between students and administration. Some of the students were seeking change and equality, but the administration treated their concerns as if they were not important.
At first glance, our metadata provides compelling evidence that the student body supported change within the racial structures on campus. A psychology study done on campus in 1939 showed that only 45 percent of male students and 75 percent of female students would address an African American as Mr/Ms. In regard to the era that this study took place, these numbers may seem quite high. Nevertheless, it is important to note that 55 percent of men and 25 percent of women would refuse to formally address an African American.
A relevant event that happened during this time was a proposal written by Virginius Dabney, a Richmond Times Dispatch journalist, that favored desegregating public carriers. An article published in 1943 by the Collegian voiced the opinion of an African American on the Dabney’s proposal in which he argues that segregation wastes more time than it saves (Collegian, 1943). The RIC also involved itself with the Dabney proposal by planning on conducting a poll in one of their meetings to see where members stood in this debate. The mere inclusion of these two articles within the Collegian highlights the slow journey to bettering race relations.
Another embodiment of the support towards segregationist policies would be the S.C. Mitchell Literary Society, an organization on campus which suggested a ban on talking about race reform at all of their meetings. According to the Society, there were only “small number of students” concerned about this insignificant issue; the others were sick of hearing it and wanted nothing to do with it. One of the events hosted by the S.C. Mitchell Literary Society was a debate regarding the Virginius Dabney proposal mentioned above. The debate indicated that a majority of the students were in favor of segregation but had no logical basis for their argument. Students debating for segregation ended up losing this debate.
An example of one of the men in support of segregation is Bob Cotten, a student columnist for the Collegian. Popular for his controversial column “Cotten Pickin’s,” he wrote many columns using derogatory rhetoric, mainly targeting ethnic minorities and women. His derisive style of writing eventually resulted in his suspension from the University of Richmond in 1942. Cotten is significant because he represents the group of students who shared the conservative ideologies demonstrated by the administration. His constant use of offensive language reflected the popular anti-black ideology of the South.
During the 1940s, the conversation on race relations was complex and full of contradictions. From a shallow viewpoint, it seemed as if it was a battle between students fighting for change and an administration refusing to enact change. Upon further investigation, the story becomes more complicated, with new characters being introduced and adding their own part to the story. Thus, the story became less about a student body against its administration, but more so a population looking for change and another holding on to its heritage and tradition.