RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The uproar continues at the University of Richmond as hundreds of students and faculty gathered to protest the controversial names of two campus buildings.
The months-long debate is intensifying. However, advocates tell 8News they aren’t backing down, saying the ‘movement’ is long overdue, mentioning George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.
“We are strong, We are united,” was one chant that echoed across U of R’s campus on Wednesday afternoon. More than 300 students, faculty, and staff members participated in a protest led by the Black Student Coalition.
Jordyn Lofton is a member of the organization and a junior at the university.
“Today was to amplify our voices and to show there is unity among everyone and to show administration and the Board of Trustees that we won’t back down and will continue the fight,” said Lofton.
Lofton shares with 8News that she has often felt uncomfortable on campus. She says board members have been very dismissive and ignored the concern that students of color are not treated equally. Jane Berry, a Psychology professor for 30 years at U of R, says she has seen the unfair treatment firsthand.
“Our black and brown students,” said Berry. “I’ve seen them singled out in class, to be a spokesperson for their entire race, to be ignored in classes, to be overlooked in classes, and to represent athletics.”
8News asked Berry why she chose to teach at U of R, and she said she wanted to be a catalyst for change. Every student 8News talked with was from out-of-state and said they weren’t aware of the culture until they arrived on campus.
Berry says she has never seen activism like this on campus and is supporting students in every step of the way. Members of the Black Student Coalition created a list of demands that were presented to the Board of Trustees.
Those demands include changing the names of Ryland Hall and Mitchell-Freeman Hall, which are currently named after a slave owner and segregationist. The students also want accommodations for the COVID-19 pandemic, off-campus mental health services for black students, for the university to abandon the addition of slave names that were added to the terrace in Ryland Hall, to endow a Chair for the Afrikana Studies Department for the fall of 2021, and a separate building for multi-cultural space.
Last month, the Board of Trustees released a study providing more historical context on both Ryland and Freeman and announced its decision that the names of both buildings would not change. In the statement, board members agree it didn’t fit the university’s educational mission and was seemingly firm in that decision.
On the heels of the controversial decision, protests erupted on campus. Signs were spray-painted, BLM flags were placed around different buildings, and a silent protest was held on March 26. During that protest, roughly 250 people stood outside holding signs while the Faculty Senate met with the Board of Trustees and the Rector Paul B. Queally, who are facing criticism.
According to the Washington Post:
“Afterward, seven faculty leaders who were there wrote an account of the meeting that sharply criticized Queally. They wrote that the rector said he considered the issue of building names a “closed matter” but that he wanted “to help Black, Brown and ‘regular students.’ ”
They also wrote that Queally characterized the effort to change the names as “cancel culture” and that he believed the university would be failing in its duty to prepare students for the “real world” if it did remove the names.”
A source told 8News those words were said as well during the meeting. Professor Berry is urging Queally to resign.
“They are acting in the most autocratic fashion that I’ve ever seen,” Berry said. “Queally just needs to step down, period.”
On Monday, the Board of Trustees announced that it would be suspending its original decision and would be more inclusive in its decision-making process.
“The board has decided to suspend the recent naming decision. The board is reviewing options for a broader, more inclusive process to determine how decisions are made about questions of renaming, and we expect to communicate our plans shortly,” the release stated.
The statement goes on to address the controversial conversation between Queally and faculty.
“The Trustees in attendance at those meetings strongly disagree with the characterization of Rector Paul Queally’s words, tone, and intent. The conversations were candid and passionate but in the spirit of mutual respect. We are saddened, but hear clearly, that some parties interpreted certain comments as disrespectful. As we work through these issues in the future, we are committed to a frank dialogue in a mutually respectful manner.”
Despite Monday’s announcement, students and staff are not happy and want their demands met. Wednesday’s protest was planned because classes were not in session, and it was the university’s ‘Giving Day.’ That day is where alumni and community members donate thousands to the school. However, it was abruptly put on ‘pause’ by the university on Tuesday.
School leaders did not say exactly why the day was put on hold, but flyers were circulating on social media, encouraging people to boycott.
The University of Richmond declined 8News’ request for an on-camera interview with Queally or any board member, but they do say they’re committed to having an open and respectful dialogue.