Shame on the University of Richmond

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

April 13, 2021

By: Katlyn Riggins

The University of Richmond seems more concerned with creating an inclusive history than an inclusive present.

Last week, the University of Richmond was in the news over two campus buildings named for a slave owner and long-time segregationist. Instead of removing the names, as James Madison University recently did, Richmond added the names of Black activists to the buildings.

Unfortunately, the building name debate isn’t the only thing the University of Richmond should be ashamed of when it comes to racial equity.

As our recent Scratching the Surface issue brief on Virginia higher education notes, the University of Richmond’s student body is only 7% Black. That percentage is abysmally low when compared to the fact the City of Richmond is 47% Black. By way of contrast, at Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University 14% of the Class of 2024 identifies as Black.

The Building Crisis

After the University’s misstep last week on building names, students and faculty expressed outrage, stating the addition of Black activists’ names instead of removing the names of white supremacists maintains the racist legacy of the school. The university claimed this decision was made to ‘contextualize’ the history of racism at the institution. Last week, they reversed course and stayed the decision.

The two buildings in question are Ryland Hall and Freeman Hall. The first is named after former university president Reverend Robert Ryland, who was a slave owner and a founder of the university. The second is named after Douglas Southall Freeman, a former university trustee who was a eugenicist and segregationist.

Current University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher released a statement on the issue:

As I have reflected on…the best way forward, I have returned again and again to why this inclusive history work is so important. First, quite simply, it is true to our unwavering commitment to academic excellence and intellectual rigor. We cannot be satisfied with a half-told story, which will only lead to a half-consciousness of the past at best. Second, it is true to our values of diversity, equity, inclusion, ethical engagement, and the pursuit of knowledge.

The University of Richmond’s “values of diversity, equity, inclusion, [yada, yada, yada]…” That’s rich.

Black Student Enrollment Down

For the past decade, Black students have rarely made up as little as 8% of undergraduates at University of Richmond, even though during this period over 22% of the state’s 18-24-year-olds were African-American. In fact, Black enrollment at the University of Richmond was lower in 2019 than it was in 2010 by nearly 12%.

Source: Analysis of data from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Census data, taken from ACS: American Community Survey/ United States Census Bureau.

One of the worst colleges in the country on Pell student enrollment

In addition to low Black enrollment, University of Richmond has not done much better in welcoming students from working class or low-income backgrounds on its campus. Consider Pell Grant student enrollment. Pell Grants typically go to students who come from families earning $60,000 per year or less. There are tens of thousands of students nationwide who are low-income and highly qualified to attend schools like University of Richmond. More than 33% of undergraduates in four-year colleges receive Pell Grants, according to Department of Education data, but barely 18% of Richmond students are Pell Grant recipients.

While other colleges have been increasing their low-income student enrollment in past years, Richmond’s numbers decreased last year. The university has a billion-dollar endowment and yet fails to enroll students with Pell Grants at nearly the same rate as colleges with similar admissions standards, such as Amherst and Vassar not to mention colleges with higher admissions standards like Johns Hopkins.

No doubt the University of Richmond would rather have an answer for a couple of controversial building names than addressing failures with regard to student body diversity. Although, they’re not exactly hitting it out of the ballpark with the former.

Maybe it’s time to hold the University of Richmond accountable for racist building names and a meaningful commitment to student body diversity and socioeconomic opportunity.

Check back tomorrow for more on the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion of Virginia colleges or lack thereof.

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