Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Browse Exhibits (4 total)

"Dark Side of College Life"

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This exhibit illustrates the tension between how African-American University Staff members were recognized between 1914 and 1932. This exhibit explores how racism was articulated at the University through photographs, student literature, student news articles, and community publications.

With a focus on African-American staff members, the exhibit demonstrates how their representation (Featured Staff) and lack of representaton (Unnamed Staff) explain the variety of ways racism at the University manifested itself over the years.

Throughout our research in the Virginia Baptist Historical Society archives, we came across an image in the 1915 yearbook captioned, "Dark Side of College Life." The photo shows nearly a dozen unidentified African-Americans on the University of Richmond's campus.

This photo raised questions in our study about the ways in which African-American staff members were represented, remembered, and acknowledged by students and administration at the University of Richmond. The fact that they were pictured could demonstrate appreciation of their work because they were made visible through the photographs in the yearbook. In contrast, the staff members are unnamed, their titles unlisted. Their position could be interpreted from their dress, but where they belong at the University is unknown. There are, however, two exceptions: Esau Brooks and John Johnson, whose service to the University was recognized and at times commemorated in school publications.

When thinking back to "Dark Side of College Life," we began to question how the contributions of African-American staff members were both silenced and praised. When looking at this in the context of the racial dynamics of the City of Richmond, we realized that African-American staff members at the University of Richmond were often silenced regardless of the impact they had on student life. Having seen the ways in which the representations of John Johnson and Esau Brooks contrast with photos like "Dark Side of College Life" in which staff were unnamed, unrecognized, and silenced, we realized that racism at the University of Richmond was complex; racism manifested itself in the representations of both the recognized and unnamed staff members.

Despite the stark differences between these two presentations of staff at the University, we do not intend to suggest that racism works in a light and dark binary, but rather that racism operates in complex ways. Depsite the fact that staff members from 1914-1932 were made visible in University publications, many were still nameless and only identified by their role as laborers. 

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Chinese Student Experience

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During the early twentieth century, Chinese students, mostly from Canton, China, came to the University of Richmond as members of the Baptist Ministry, which founded by the University in 1830. In the early 20th century, American missionaries were going overseas to China to spread the Christian faith. Chinese students arrived to the University as Baptists joining a larger Christian community in addition to receiving an American education. Many of the Chinese students from both Richmond and Westhampton College were active members of the University community. This exhibit analyzes primary texts including written works of Chinese students attending the University, photos, documents, clubs and activities, and writing reflecting white students' imaginings of Chinese students. This collection of historical documents and images aims to provide insight into Chinese students' experiences.

 

 

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Student Life and White Supremacy

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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

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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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