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University of Richmond Trustees Under Fire for Retaining Building Names

Madyson Fitzgerald

Faculty members at the University of Richmond ratified a resolution calling on the school’s rector to resign.  He and other members of the board of trustees refused a student request to change the names of buildings that honor two white supremacists. 

The University of Richmond is a private school with only 4,000 students – 6% African American, and it’s not known for political activism, but over the last three months faculty members, students and alumni have risen up against buildings named for founder Robert Ryland and Professor Douglas Southall Freeman. 

“Ryland being a proponent of slavery who owned slaves himself and Freeman was in favor of eugenics," explains Sociology Professor Eric Grollman. "He was a proponent of segregation.”

Grollman says the board of trustees refused to rename the buildings, offering instead to add on to Ryland Hall.

“There would be a terrace out back that would be named in honor of the enslaved black folks, and the decision with the Freeman building was to combine his name with one of his most staunch critics.”

That offer did not sit well with students like Elijah Michel who expressed their dismay at campus protests and online. 

“There was such overwhelming support for the names to be changed.  The board of trustees are fighting ferociously to keep the names of two racist people instead of just taking them down.”

The rector and several trustees met with faculty and staff but were firm in their decision not to rename the buildings. 

“Beyond making it very clear that they had no interest whatsoever in changing, the head of the board of trustees was essentially very abusive, very hostile with the lone black staff member in that room – a black woman,” Grollman recalls. 

Alumni also weighed-in, calling for a boycott of the school’s annual giving day.  Last year it raised more than $1.5 million.  This year, the university decided to cancel it, and Grollman concludes, "The negative press that it’s bringing to our campus is really jeopardizing the future of the institution.”   

Credit Madyson Fitzgerald
Hundreds of students, faculty and staff have been protesting the names of white supremacists on campus buildings this year.

The board now says it will suspend its original decision and consider other options.  In a statement, the trustees said they had tried to chart a path that was honest about our history and respectful of the varying views of our students and alumni.  We accept that our process and the proposed decision have not achieved our objectives.