Letter of Disaffiliation from the University of Richmond

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Dear University of Richmond (UR) community,

In solidarity with the demands released by the UR Black Student Coalition in Protect Our Web: A Statement on Black Student Welfare, I am disaffiliating from the University of Richmond beginning March 25, 2021. This means that I am ceasing all uncompensated, extracurricular, public-facing work and programming until the University releases a plan to sufficiently meet all three demands listed in the Protect Our Web statement linked above.

The Black Student signatories wrote in their statement:

“As Black students at the University of Richmond, we have felt the cold face of disregard time and time again. We look on from the margins as this institution, which claims to be invested in “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” continuously betrays the interests of Black students…It is evident that there is an institutional culture of justifying and upholding white supremacy.”

This request was catalyzed by the most recent example of blatant upholding of white supremacy at the expense of Black students: the university refused to remove the names of Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman’s names from campus buildings. In response, students wrote their letter with a list of demands, the first being the removal of the names. In response, the Board of Trustees doubled down on their decision, writing that “removing building names is inconsistent with the pursuit of our educational mission”.

“Educational mission”!? Not to state the obvious, but when a name on a sign of a dead guy who advocated for racial segregation and eugenics is more important than the real harm being done to the current students you claim to serve, you’re serving the wrong mission. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking, how angering this decision must be for the students who made the demand for the names to be removed.

In response, student groups have been announcing their disaffiliation with UR. Among the groups announced are the student-run radio station’s executive team, the volleyball club, SpiderNights, the law school’s Student Bar Association, sorority chapters, and the UR Outdoors Club.

Today (March 25) is the first day that students are calling for individual letters of disaffiliation from students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

To fellow UR colleagues (and alumni, faculty, and staff) who are considering disaffiliation:

Writer Mindy Morgan Avitia published a powerful piece recently about the status quo of racism and white supremacy in nonprofits, and her experience in working in (and leaving) them. She writes:

“I stopped working for organizations ran by highly privileged people and became a full-time freelancer. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was contributing to the status quo and upholding racism in all its structures… I realized after years of being groomed by white leaders to uphold the status quo, I was doing exactly that. I know that it’s not a surprise these were said, but people like me need to stop being groomed to uphold the status quo.

We need to hold our leadership accountable. One voice, like mine, will be deemed as “not a good culture fit,” but all of our voices would demand action.

I left my job at UR last year for a lot of reasons, including that I could no longer ignore the voice in my head that yelled “this is a system that upholds white supremacy and racism, and by working here, you’re just part of it!!!”. (I absolutely am not saying that this is the right decision for everyone, just that it was the right decision for me at the time, and I have so much respect for my former colleagues who are still at UR and working towards the important mission of supporting students and challenging the current systems).

I recognize that practically speaking, this act of disaffiliation doesn’t mean much for me, nor am I putting anything real at risk — I remain tied to the UR community only as a student of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS), where I’m finishing up a masters degree in nonprofit studies. This gives me the freedom to speak truth to power and try to be on the side of good, not on the side of status-quo white supremacy that hurts our students of color. I’m so inspired by full-time students, faculty, and staff who are taking this step and putting much more at risk.

Disaffiliation also means I won’t participate in fundraising, which I would never do anyways. (And if you’re considering giving money to UR in the future, a school that has one of the biggest endowments in the nation, and has a Form 990 of insanely high salaries to the highest-paid employees, and who built a new wellness center that LITERALLY has a salt room for students, please listen to this podcast from Malcolm Gladwell called My Little Hundred Million about the broken system of higher ed philanthropy and the ways that fancy university amenities are a trade-off of giving financial support to students in need, I will talk about this any time.)

I am in a position of privilege that I can say whatever I want with pretty much no repercussions or risk to my job. And I want to make sure I put that privilege to use. I encourage you to do the same, even if it’s a bigger risk for you. I’m inspired by the bravery and conviction of UR’s student-led movements, but it should not be their fight to lead. The burden of making a change and challenging systems should not fall to those most affected by those systems.

To other UR students, staff, alumni, and faculty: I encourage you to show your support for these students. Make it public. I offer this encouragement especially to my former colleagues who are not directly involved in the work that supports these student-led iniatives. You’re still an important part of the UR community, and standing in solidarity for a more inclusive and safer campus environment matters. It doesn’t have to be a long or eloquent letter (here’s a copy-paste template that the student group has created as a resource).

One staff member at UR referred to disaffiliation as “a radical act of kindness.” It’s an act of solidarity, protest, and compassion.

The University of Richmond’s values read: “The University of Richmond values the dignity, worth, and contributions of all individuals; the thoughtful and respectful engagement with a broad diversity of perspectives and experiences essential to intellectual growth; and an inclusive community in which all members can engage meaningfully in institutional life and contribute to a community where all thrive.” Let’s support that educational mission.

In solidarity,

Brittany

P.S. To learn more about this or to read student perspectives directly, I’d recommend following along with the excellent student-led reporting team at The Collegian, UR’s student newspaper.

Kindness, creativity, curiosity // Editor of Better Marketing (bettermarketing.pub) // Richmond, VA

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