Commission Messages to the Community

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  • Oct. 12, 2021: University of Richmond Naming Survey by the Gallup Organization

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    As you know, the University of Richmond has retained the services of the Gallup Organization to survey alumni, students, faculty, staff, and parents about conventions for naming buildings, spaces, professorships, and programs at UR. Gallup is preparing to launch this survey next week, and we are hopeful that you will agree to participate in the survey when you are contacted directly by Gallup in the coming days.

    Individual survey responses will be kept completely confidential. Overall results will be shared with the Naming Principles Commission, which has been charged with making recommendations to the President and the Board of Trustees about processes for future naming decisions. It is expected that top-line results for the survey will be made public sometime in the spring semester.

    In the coming days, you will receive an email from Gallup inviting you to participate in this online survey. We hope you will take the time to complete the survey and share your thoughts on this topic. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete.

    Thank you in advance for your participation in this important effort. Should you have any questions, or wish not to be contacted about the survey, please respond here.

    Thank you.

  • Sept. 27, 2021: Invitation to Provide Input to the Naming Principles Commission: Survey and Listening Sessions

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    We are writing to let you know about upcoming opportunities to share your perspective with the University’s Naming Principles Commission.

    As you know, the Commission is charged to develop recommendations for 1) principles to provide consistent guidance for decisions related to naming, across applications of names (e.g., buildings, professorships, programs, etc.) and 2) a process by which the principles would be applied to specific cases.

    The priority for our work this fall is to collect and consider perspectives to inform our recommendations to President Hallock and the Board of Trustees in the spring. There will be two important opportunities for you to share your views with the Commission in October:

    • The Commission will hold a series of listening sessions with students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We are in the process of scheduling those now and will communicate the schedule via SpiderBytes, the Commission’s webpage, listservs, social media, and other means. Commission members very much look forward to talking directly with many of you at these events, some of which will be offered virtually and some of which we hope to offer in person on campus.
    • The University has also retained the services of the Gallup Organization to help gather input about how the University addresses naming conventions and decision-making. All students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents of current Richmond undergraduate students will be invited to participate. Gallup expects to launch this online survey in mid-October, and in advance, you will receive an email directly from Gallup inviting you to participate. We hope you will take the time to complete the survey to share your thoughts on this important topic. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete. 

    Individual survey responses will be kept completely confidential. Results will be shared with the Commission to inform its recommendations about principles and processes to guide future naming decisions. We expect to have the survey results late this calendar year, and then the Commission will begin the process of analyzing the data with Gallup. As this process is completed, we will share top-line survey results with the University community. Should you have any questions or wish not to be contacted about the survey, please respond here.

    In addition, as always, you may contact the Commission at any time here.

    Again, it is important that the Commission hear the views of as many members of the University community as possible, and we are grateful to you for taking the time to share yours. 

    With best wishes, 

    Christy S. Coleman
    John A. Roush
    Commission Co-Chairs

  • July 29, 2021: Naming Principles Commission Update

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    We are pleased to write today with an update on matters relating to the work of the Naming Principles Commission. As you know, the Commission was established in May by President Crutcher and the Board of Trustees and charged to develop principles to provide consistent guidance for decisions related to naming, across applications of names (e.g., buildings, professorships, programs, etc.). The full membership of the Commission, which includes student, faculty, staff, alumni, and Trustee representatives, can be found here.

    The Commission will convene for its first meeting in August to develop its work plan and will meet regularly thereafter. A key element of our work will be to ensure robust opportunities for the University community to provide its perspectives to inform the Commission’s recommendations. The Commission expects to hold both in-person and virtual listening sessions during the fall semester. Information about those sessions will be provided as forums are scheduled, and we look forward to talking with many of you at these events.

    In addition, as President Crutcher and the Board indicated, perspectives will be solicited via a comprehensive survey of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and parents, conducted by a national research firm. The University has selected Gallup, Inc. to conduct the survey, following a robust proposal and interview process with an impressive group of national firms. The survey project will be led by Gallup’s Education Research practice, which brings extensive experience with rigorous survey projects at institutions across the country. The survey findings will be an important resource to the Commission, and we hope that you will take the time to participate in the survey. We expect the survey process to begin in September and to conclude by the end of the fall semester. You will be contacted directly by Gallup with an invitation to participate. The top-line results of the survey will be made available to the University community in the spring semester.

    The Commission will also sponsor opportunities for members of the University community to learn more about the experience of other institutions in developing and applying naming principles, as well as to consider key questions related to naming issues. We hope to hold one session in September, facilitated by President Emeritus and University Professor Ed Ayers, Special Advisor to the Commission and a distinguished historian of the American South. We will provide additional information as plans for that event are finalized, and we look forward to a substantive, valuable dialogue with colleagues from other campuses and members of our University community as we work together to identify the principles most appropriate to the University of Richmond. 

    We are deeply grateful to all members of the Commission for taking part in this enormously important work on behalf of the University. We hope that you will participate in the process and share your views at a forum, through the survey, or by contacting the Commission directly. We will keep you apprised of significant milestones in the Commission’s work as it continues.

    With best wishes,

    Christy S. Coleman
    John A. Roush

Messages Prior to the Formation of the Commission

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  • May 17, 2021: Update on the Naming Principles Commission

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    We are writing to provide an update on the composition and charge of the Naming Principles Commission.

    Our commitment to a broad, inclusive process is reflected in both the composition and charge. The Commission includes faculty, staff, student, and alumni representatives, selected by their respective representative bodies. The Commission membership is as follows:

    • Kenneth S. Anderson, ’17, L’20, Alumni Representative
    • Jeff A. Brown, M.D., R’85, Trustee
    • Christy Coleman, Executive Director, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Co-Chair
    • Kimberly M. Edwards, CG’13, Director of Technology Services, Law Library, USAC Representative
    • Jordyn Lofton, ’22, Student Representative
    • S. Georgia Nugent, Ph.D., Trustee
    • John A. Roush, Ph.D., Trustee, Co-Chair
    • Julietta Singh, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Faculty Representative
    • Wendell L. Taylor, L’98, Trustee

    In addition, the Commission, at its discretion, may invite up to two additional individuals to serve as members, if it determines that further expertise would be beneficial.

    Edward L. Ayers, Ph.D., University Professor and President Emeritus, will serve as Special Advisor to the Commission. Four external advisors have also been identified. Information is available about them here. The Commission will consult additional internal and external advisors as needed.

    We are grateful to all members of the Commission for agreeing to serve in this important role. We are especially grateful to Christy Coleman, who, as many of you know, prior to becoming Executive Director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, served as CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and was also co-chair of the Monument Avenue Commission. Ms. Coleman brings deep experience to ensuring a fuller story of history is told, and a creative, thoughtful, and inclusive approach to discussions and deliberations about issues of historical memory.

    The full charge of the Commission can be found here. The Commission will formulate and recommend principles and criteria to determine the appropriateness of namings for an individual or entity at the University. Specifically, the Commission will develop clear and rigorous principles to provide consistent guidance for decisions related to namings, including questions of de-naming and re-naming. The principles should apply not only to building names, but also to various applications of names (e.g., spaces, professorships, programs, etc.). The principles should not be limited to specific cases or time periods and must be sufficiently broad and enduring to serve as a guide to the University into the future. The Commission will also consider recommendations that address issues including: a) in what circumstances it is appropriate to consider the removal of or modification to names; b) in what circumstances it is appropriate to consider contextualization either of an existing/retained name or following the removal of a name; and c) a process by which requests may be made for consideration of de-naming/re-naming and by which the principles would be applied to specific cases. The application of principles to specific naming questions is not encompassed in the Commission’s charge and will follow completion of the Commission’s work.

    A fundamental element of the Commission’s charge is to ensure a transparent and inclusive process, consulting extensively with members of the University community to gain an understanding of the range of perspectives to inform its recommendations. These perspectives will be solicited via a comprehensive survey of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and parents, conducted by a national research firm. The Commission will also undertake direct engagement with specific groups as needed and hold open fora for the campus community, some of which will address the experience of other institutions and the historical, cultural, social, and ethical questions at the heart of de-naming and re-naming issues. The Commission can be reached here.

    The Commission will begin its work in earnest in August and will move forward as expeditiously as possible while ensuring a thoughtful and thorough process. We will ask the Commission to submit its final recommendations to President Hallock and the Board of Trustees in the spring semester of the 2021-2022 academic year. The Commission will also provide updates to the University community on its work as appropriate, and the final report and recommendations will be made available to the University community. Ultimate approval authority for the recommended principles rests with the Board. The Board is committed to considering the recommendations carefully, with the expectation of accepting and applying the principles recommended by the Commission.

    We are grateful to Trustees John Roush, President Emeritus of Centre College, and Georgia Nugent, President of Illinois Wesleyan University and President Emerita of Kenyon College, for their thoughtfulness and care in helping to plan for the Commission. We also appreciate the valuable perspectives and counsel offered by Dr. Ayers and Associate Professor of Leadership Studies Julian Hayter.

    We look forward to working with the Commission and the University community to ensure a clear principles framework that reflects a broad range of input and that will serve as an essential guide to future decisions about important naming issues.


    President Crutcher and the Board of Trustees

  • April 23, 2021: Update from President Crutcher and the Board of Trustees

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    We are writing with updates from the Board of Trustees’ meetings this week.

    Commission Planning

    The Board discussed planning for the commission that will develop and recommend principles to guide decisions about renaming. We will finalize and communicate the specific charge and composition of the commission as soon as possible. The commission will be asked to complete its work by December 31, 2021, if feasible.

    The commission will be broadly inclusive, with membership from our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, selected by their appropriate representative body, not by the Board. The commission will also have Trustee representation and will include external, independent members with relevant experience and expertise. As we have indicated, the commission’s work will itself be inclusive and will ensure that the perspectives of students, faculty, staff, and alumni are carefully considered. As one means of gathering broad and substantive input, the University will retain the services of a nationally recognized research firm to undertake a comprehensive survey of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to inform the commission’s work. Selection of the research firm and planning for the survey will occur over the summer, and the survey will be launched no later than the first weeks of the fall semester. The planning group continues to welcome input from the community and can be contacted here. We are grateful for the suggestions provided thus far.

    DEI Committee

    The Board also voted unanimously to establish a Board standing committee focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University. In the coming weeks, we will develop the specific charge for the committee and finalize other details, with the expectation that the committee will begin its work by the fall. In electing to establish this committee, the Board reaffirmed its collective commitment to the University’s diversity, inclusion, and equity goals and to our shared aspirations to ensure that our academic community is a welcoming environment in which all members can thrive.

    Institutional priorities relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion were also a focus in our meetings this week. Trustees thoroughly reviewed the University’s progress in strengthening undergraduate retention and graduation rates across all student populations. The Academic and Enrollment Management Committee discussed in detail Admission’s ongoing, significant work to recruit African American and other students of color and continued conversations about the changing demographics of the U.S. college-going population. Executive Vice President and Provost Jeff Legro also provided an update on the approval of the Africana Studies major and minor in the School of Arts & Sciences. Trustees were also informed about the expansion of the Multicultural Student Space in Whitehurst and plans to ensure student organizations can reserve an open lodge for social gatherings and programming beginning this fall.

    In closing, we would like to express our deep gratitude to all faculty, staff, and students for their perseverance and resilience in this challenging year. You enabled the University to resume and sustain residential education and in-person instruction despite the many difficulties posed by the pandemic. You also sustained the highest levels of excellence in scholarship; teaching; competition for prestigious grants, scholarships, and fellowships; athletic competition; and numerous other areas. And you ensured our ability to advance important institutional priorities — including our inclusive excellence work — while, in effect, reinventing the way we teach, learn, and live in the context of the pandemic. The Board looks forward to continued collaboration with faculty, staff, students, and alumni to advance the University.

    With best wishes to our students as you prepare for final exams, and with congratulations to all of our 2021 graduates,

    President Ronald A. Crutcher and the Board of Trustees

  • April 12, 2021: Creating an Inclusive Process to Guide Renaming Decisions

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    As we indicated last week, the Board of Trustees has suspended the recent naming decision and, with President Crutcher, is committed to ensuring a broader, more inclusive process to determine how decisions are made about questions of renaming going forward. We write today with an update.

    Many members of the University community have recommended that we undertake a deliberate process to establish specific principles to guide decisions about renaming. This is a practice that numerous other institutions have successfully adopted. We fully agree that this is an essential next step for the University of Richmond.

    Accordingly, the Board will create a commission to establish principles on renaming to begin work as soon as possible. The work of this commission will be inclusive and will ensure a fresh start with respect to considering renaming decisions at the University of Richmond. We anticipate that the commission will include both members of the University community and external, independent members with relevant experience and expertise.

    In order to ensure thorough and thoughtful preparation for the commission and its work, the Board has asked Trustees Georgia Nugent (President of Illinois Wesleyan University and former President of Kenyon College) and John Roush (President Emeritus of Centre College) to lead planning for the commission, working in consultation with President Crutcher and senior leadership to formulate a recommendation to the Board regarding the commission process and membership. University of Richmond President Emeritus Ed Ayers and Associate Professor of Leadership Studies Julian Hayter have agreed to serve as advisors in the planning work.

    This planning stage will consider all community input on this issue that has been, or will be, received by the Board, President Crutcher, and the planning group. In formulating their recommendations to the Board, the planning group will carefully consider the approaches taken by other institutions. The planning work will be conducted expeditiously. If you would like to offer further thoughts for consideration as the details of the commission are finalized, you may do so here.

    We look forward to working with the commission and the University community to ensure a clear framework that reflects a broad range of valuable input. The commission will be charged to engage the campus community in substantive and inclusive conversations in the course of its work and to provide a range of opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and alumni to share their views.

    We are grateful for the thoughtful suggestions so many members of the community have made, and we look forward to continued collaboration.

    The Board of Trustees

  • April 8, 2021: Suspending Recent Building Naming Decisions

    Dear Alumni,

    We are committed to the important and difficult work of researching, uncovering, and better understanding the University’s past so that we might learn from it. Our interest all along has been to chart a path that resulted in an honest and unvarnished account of the University’s history. That prompted extensive research to explore and understand the lives and legacies of the Rev. Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman and to help us wrestle with the question of the campus buildings which bear their names.

    In February, I announced the decision to retain the names on the buildings so that the history of our campus might be confronted, thoroughly understood, enlivened, and expanded. After announcing this decision, students, faculty, staff, and alumni shared their deep concerns. Most recently, I have spoken with the Alumni Association Board of Directors, as have members of the Board of Trustees, to discuss the decision and to better understand concerns expressed by the alumni community.

    We respect the deep convictions about these names among faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and the Board of Trustees and I accept that we have not handled either the process or the decision relating to the building naming matter as well as we should have.

    Accordingly, the Board of Trustees and I have decided to suspend the recent naming decisions and to review options for a broader, more inclusive process to determine how decisions are made about questions of renaming. Alumni views will be an important part of this process. The Board has indicated that it expects to communicate our plans shortly. At the same time, we will continue our ongoing work to ensure that the University is a place where all our students and members of our community can thrive.

    As a university, we place special importance on being thorough, thoughtful, and inclusive. I am confident that we will learn from this moment and come together to advance our work, united in our care for the University and by the aspirations we all have for it.


    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • April 5, 2021: Board of Trustees Message to the Faculty Senate

    Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

    We wanted to share with you the message we sent earlier today to the Faculty Senate.

    The Board of Trustees


    The Faculty Senate:

    We have received your Motion to Censure and would like to add our perspective to the record.

    At the heart of the motion is clear disappointment and frustration over the building naming decision by the board. As this was a unanimous board decision, your frustration rests with all of us, not just the Rector. We accept that this is a divisive and difficult decision, and strong differences of opinion are understood and welcomed.

    Our interest all along has been to chart a path that was honest about our history and respectful of the varying views in our community. We respect the deep convictions about these issues among faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and we accept that our process and the proposed decision have not achieved our objectives.

    Accordingly, 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 meetings referenced in the motion were intended to advance the understanding of all parties on these complex issues. 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.

    We have learned from this experience and remain confident that together we can develop a comprehensive approach that will serve the best interests of our community.

    The Board of Trustees

  • March 17, 2021: A response to concerns raised by the Black Student Coalition

    Dear Members of the Campus Community,

    Even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past several weeks have been especially challenging for our Spider community. As the Black Student Coalition poignantly wrote in their letter to me, Black students on our campus continue to experience deeply the pains of racism, exclusion, and most distressing to me, their perception that we do not see, hear, or value them as full members of our community.

    Today, I write to address the core concerns raised in their recent letter, which has understandably gained support and recognition from others on campus and elsewhere, and to unequivocally restate, as I did when I met with Black student leaders yesterday afternoon, our continuing commitment to creating a campus climate and culture where all students can find a sense of belonging and fully participate.

    The release of the Rev. Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman reports, which advanced our understanding of the University’s deep ties to enslavement and segregation, was difficult for many students and members of the University of Richmond community. As a descendant of enslaved persons, I recognize how painful these histories are — and I understand that my and the Board’s decisions regarding campus building names have disappointed and hurt members of our community.

    The Board of Trustees has determined it will not remove names from campus buildings. The Board has provided a statement to accompany my letter, and you can read it here. I understand this is not the response that many have called for. The Board, University leadership, and I remain committed to ensuring that the history of our campus is thoroughly understood, enlivened, and expanded to reflect the rich diversity of our campus. Though it will be challenging at times, I urge students and members of the community to continue to participate in this work to inform and advance our community toward a better and more inclusive future.

    As our students have reminded us, support for mental health is critical to ensuring they can thrive on this campus. This need is especially acute among Black students and students of color, who may regularly experience exclusion, isolation, and/or a lack of belonging at a predominantly white institution. Counseling and Psychological Services has assured me that our counselors have the capacity to actively and effectively support all our students and have worked with a special sense of urgency to respond to this need over the past 18 months.

    The ongoing pandemic has compounded mental health challenges and made academic work more challenging for students. Responsive to the continuing concerns raised by our students, the Faculty Senate intends to reconsider a proposal on the credit/no credit policy during its monthly meeting on March 19.

    In addition, we remain committed to continuing our work on the following initiatives, which are consistent with the University’s inclusive excellence goals and actions, and our work with student leaders prior to the pandemic:

    Multicultural Center and Student Support: In February 2020, I pledged to find a permanent location for a multicultural space on campus and to integrate the offices and services of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground. Building upon the work and creativity of students involved in the Multicultural Student Space Pilot, we will provide additional space in Whitehurst as we work toward establishing an excellent multicultural center. In addition to enhancing the existing multicultural space in Whitehurst, this center will also house an expanded LGBTQ lounge, office space for staff and student workers of the recently re-configured Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground, and student office space for the Race and Racism Project.

    This summer, we will also develop vibrant outdoor space adjoining Whitehurst to create more opportunities for gathering, programming, and events. The location of this multi-purpose space among primarily first-year and sophomore residences, and in close proximity to the Well-Being Center, University Recreation, and International Education, places it at the core of student life on campus. We aim to reopen Whitehurst with these changes at the start of fall 2021.

    Understanding our Complex History and Shared Values: To help students understand our complex institutional history and the values we share today, this fall we plan to launch Well 100, a 13-week extended orientation class for all new undergraduates. This reconfiguration of the wellness graduation requirement will include a two-week module built upon the diversity, equity, and inclusion education that begins during Orientation and emphasizes our values and institutional history. Positioned among other sessions designed to connect new students to resources and opportunities at Richmond, this course will ensure all new students learn about these essential elements of our intellectual community. We are also working to ensure that newly hired faculty and staff learn about our institutional history and shared values as part of their New Faculty/Staff Orientation.

    Support will continue for faculty and students to engage in research, scholarship, and creative work related to our institutional history via the Institutional History Learning Cohort and the University of Richmond Race and Racism project.

    New Options for Social Gatherings: Beginning in fall 2021, in partnership with the Center for Student Involvement, student organizations will be able to reserve an open lodge for social gatherings and programming in the University’s lodge area. Students initiated this project last year, but implementation was stalled by the pandemic’s limitations on social gatherings. We are also encouraging the use of the Greek Theatre and the Web for formal and informal social gatherings.

    University Mentoring: Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher and I have long believed in the value and importance of mentorship in cultivating a sense of belonging among our students, including students of color. So, I am especially pleased to share the University will begin work in summer 2021 to establish a pilot for a University-wide mentoring program, which will provide training, support, and funding to cultivate a network of mentors for students as they transition into our community.

    The actions I have outlined above build upon and extend our existing work to advance our shared goals and will ensure a more permanent foundation for many important projects and initiatives we have piloted with students for future generations of Spiders. And while the work required to provide a residential education during the COVID-19 pandemic, by necessity, slowed us down, we will continue to make progress toward our shared goals.

    When I challenged our community in my 2015 inaugural address to use our rich diversity to improve the culture of the University so that everyone — regardless of their identities, backgrounds, ideologies, or experiences — could thrive, I knew this transformation could not be achieved in five years, or even ten years. Our efforts to make excellence inclusive at Richmond are, and will be, a continuous work in progress.

    In my time here, we have had both incredible successes and setbacks. But I remain confident that if we press forward together, our progress will continue. We will keep pushing, keep trying, and keep advancing the essential work of fostering a truly welcoming, inclusive community for all of us.


    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • March 17, 2021: Statement from the Board of Trustees

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    As Trustees, we deeply appreciate our students’ candor in the Statement on Black Student Welfare about their experiences at the University of Richmond. We recognize that we still have important work to do to become the truly inclusive community we aspire to be. We also understand the disappointment and hurt associated with our decision regarding the names of Ryland Hall and Mitchell-Freeman Hall.

    We share President Crutcher’s deep commitment to ensuring an honest, transparent, and more inclusive account of the University’s history. This work has revealed the University’s complicity in slavery in the Ryland era and the advocacy of past-Rector Douglas Southall Freeman for segregation, disenfranchisement, racial purity measures, and eugenics — advocacy arising from false, racist, and abhorrent beliefs. Many of the actions and views brought to light by the research are wholly inconsistent with the institution we are today.

    In numerous conversations, the Board gave careful consideration to the question raised by the student governments of removing Ryland’s and Freeman’s names from the buildings on our campus. We believe, however, that removing building names is inconsistent with the pursuit of our educational mission, which informs all of our actions.

    We also share President Crutcher’s view that the University’s commitment to a more accurate and inclusive history must be manifest in visible ways on our campus. The Board unanimously supports recognizing permanently in Ryland Hall the names of those enslaved by Robert Ryland and those hired out to Richmond College, naming the Humanities Commons Terrace in honor of an enslaved person or persons whose names were recovered through the research into the Ryland era, and adding John Mitchell Jr.’s name to Mitchell-Freeman Hall. Future work will ensure recognition on campus of milestones and pathbreakers not presently part of our institutional narrative.

    We are immensely grateful for President Crutcher’s steadfast leadership in advancing the University’s commitment to ensuring a more inclusive University community and for the expectations our students have established for our community. We remain committed to continuing this work.

    Board of Trustees, University of Richmond

  • Feb. 25, 2021: Institutional History Update: Our Commitment to a Fuller Historical Narrative

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    I write to share with you two reports that advance our commitment to a fuller, more inclusive University history, “A Season of Discipline”: Enslavement, Education & Faith in the Life of Robert Ryland and “The Virginia Way”: Race, The “Lost Cause,” & The Social Influence of Douglas Southall Freeman. As you may recall, I commissioned these reports in 2019 on the recommendation of the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity, which called for research regarding Robert Ryland, Douglas Southall Freeman, and slavery on our landscape.

    The University of Richmond is steeped in a long and often inspirational history. There are aspects of it, however, that we have ignored for too long and left out too often. These reports provide an essential corrective. Part of our Inclusive History Initiative and Making Excellence Inclusive plan, they bring to the fore our University’s relationship to the defining moral struggles of our country: slavery and segregation. I am grateful for the leadership of public historian Dr. Lauranett L. Lee and the work of researchers Shelby M. Driskill (Robert Ryland) and Suzanne Slye (Douglas Southall Freeman). They have brought their expertise, rigor, and dedication to these important studies. I also want to thank all the students who pushed us to learn more about Ryland and Freeman, central figures in the University’s history in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively. I urge our entire University community to read and wrestle with the findings of these reports.

    As I have reflected on the findings and 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. These shared values call us to negotiate the tensions in our past as foundational work to becoming the thriving intercultural community to which we aspire. Finally, this work is true to the bedrock principles of liberal arts education — to the notion of stretching intellectually beyond the place where one begins; to preparing our students to be agile critical thinkers, skilled at grappling with challenging issues and engaging in meaningful dialogue about them; and to understanding the world as it is and has been in order to shape a better future.

    Our approach to inclusive institutional history can further distinguish the exceptional education for which we are known. This spirit has informed the next steps that I will outline below, in addition to addressing some of the key findings of the research.

    Rev. Robert Ryland (1805–1899)

    Robert Ryland, for whom one part of Ryland Hall is named, dedicated his life to education and ministry. He was in many ways a paradox, embracing spiritual equality while rejecting racial equality.

    Ryland essentially built what would become the University of Richmond from the ground up, first as principal of Virginia Baptist Seminary in Henrico County (1832–1840) and then as the first president of Richmond College (1840–66), near what is now downtown Richmond. Despite early financial strain and setbacks, Ryland persevered and oversaw the remarkable growth of the institution from a small farm-based seminary with two teachers and under a dozen students to a thriving college with over 100 students, expanding academic programs, and a significant endowment. It is no exaggeration to say that there would be no University of Richmond today were it not for Robert Ryland’s tireless work in the institution’s first decades.

    During this period, Ryland became one of the state’s most prominent Baptist leaders and was known nationally for his role as pastor of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church, which had a congregation of over 2,000 Black people, the vast majority of whom were enslaved. One of Ryland’s reasons for accepting the position in 1841 was his belief that all people deserved equal access to biblical teachings. He felt a duty to fill the role since Virginia had made it illegal for Black ministers to preach in the aftermath of Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

    Yet, as the research findings underscore, Ryland’s legacy is far more complex and challenging, with his educational leadership and ministry entwined with enslavement. While as a young man Ryland had once decried slavery as a “legalized crime,” he came to see it as God’s will and a social and economic necessity. By the time Ryland assumed leadership of what would become the University of Richmond, the report states, “he was both enslaving people and hiring them out, leasing their labor to others for profit,” including to Virginia Baptist Seminary and Richmond College. By 1860, Ryland had personally enslaved over two dozen men, women, and children, and records indicated that he “hired out” at least two of them to the Seminary and the College.

    Ryland was not the sole administrator with oversight of the enslaved people hired to work at the University’s precursor institutions. The records of the Board of Trustees, of which Ryland was also president, show the Board’s knowledge of and involvement in these arrangements. Under their leadership, the Seminary and the College hired an unknown number of enslaved people from enslavers and hiring agents to help run daily operations and serve students and faculty. The enslaved individuals filled students’ lamps with oil, polished their shoes, made their beds, tended their fires, and cleaned their rooms. They also cultivated and harvested crops in the early years of the institution, cooked meals, cleaned the grounds, worked in the garden, and served in the dining room.

    Just as Ryland’s leadership was essential to the growth of the University, so too was the labor of these enslaved people. Because of this research, we now know some of their names and can begin to pay them tribute. Sam, Fanny, Nathan, Rachel, Miles, Peter, Hannah, Caroline, Isabella, Nancy, Celia, Albert, Abbey/Abby, and Christian labored for the institution in the 1830s and 1840s. Martin operated the campus gas-works in 1858. Sarah, Little John, and Willis worked in a dormitory in 1859. Eleven enslaved people, whose names are not known, worked in two college dormitories according to the 1860 census. We will now acknowledge all these people in the telling of our institutional history.

    In his years of ministry, Ryland did promote some autonomy for his congregation, including providing members with opportunities to read and to lead lengthy prayers during services — all activities that, to some, challenged the limits of the laws instituted after Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Ultimately, however, Ryland’s work served pro-slavery Christian ideology, and he used his position at times to emphasize the racial hierarchy of antebellum Virginia. As he told his congregation in one sermon, white people are “the law-makers — the masters — the superiors. The people of color are the subjects — the servants — and even when not in bondage, the inferiors.”

    Like many Virginians at the time, Ryland hoped to avoid southern secession while preserving enslavement. When the Civil War erupted, however, he became a committed supporter of the Confederacy, investing much of his wealth in Confederate funds — and encouraging Richmond College to convert much of its endowment to Confederate securities. When the South surrendered and those investments became essentially worthless, Ryland was financially ruined, and the institution nearly was as well. Ryland worked to help rebuild the College after the war, but he resigned as president in 1866 after he believed he had lost the confidence of the full Board of Trustees. He remained a trustee until 1868.

    Robert Ryland, like other key figures in Richmond College’s founding and first decades, was, as we knew, an enslaver. Although he held antislavery leanings as a young man and could have chosen another path, ultimately, he embraced enslavement as part of a divine plan — a belief that quickly melded with the economic and social advantages enslavement provided him in antebellum Virginia. We also now understand more fully the degree to which Richmond College itself participated in the enslavement system, both by exploiting the labor of the enslaved people it hired and by compensating their enslavers, including Ryland. The Board of Trustees and I deeply regret the University’s complicity in enslavement and are committed to transparency about this painful history and to commemorating the enslaved persons forced to work at Richmond College. I invite you to read the full statement from the Board of Trustees.

    Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman (1886–1953)

    Douglas Southall Freeman, after whom Freeman Hall is named, was widely considered an exemplar of academic excellence in his time. Graduating from Richmond College at age 18 and completing a Ph.D. in history at The Johns Hopkins University, Freeman went on to become an influential public intellectual whose reach extended from America’s living rooms to the Oval Office. Freeman was a historian who earned national recognition for his Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies of Robert E. Lee and George Washington. He was also a military strategist who lectured in the halls of the United States Army and Navy War Colleges — and provided the public with accessible analyses of World War I and II battles through radio broadcasts.

    Freeman was a newspaper editor who had the ear of the country’s most powerful leaders — President Woodrow Wilson was a regular reader of his Richmond News Leader editorials during World War I; General George C. Marshall, one of the nation’s most decorated soldiers, corresponded with him extensively; and the landmark G.I. Bill providing greater opportunity to veterans — especially educational opportunity — grew out of an idea from Freeman. Freeman was also a trustee (1925–1950) and later rector (1934–1950) of the University of Richmond’s Board of Trustees who helped raise the profile of his alma mater, steward it through the Great Depression and World War II, and defend academic freedom for faculty.

    Yet, as the research lays bare, for all of his lofty thought and rhetoric, Freeman’s views rested on a foundation of racist beliefs that led him to glorify the Confederacy, promote segregation and disenfranchisement of Blacks, and advocate for eugenics. Heavily influenced by his father, who had served as a Confederate officer and venerated the Confederacy for the rest of his life, Freeman became an apologist for southern secession. Seeking absolution for his beloved home state, Freeman flattened the complexity of the past and wrote, “slavery was not of Virginia’s seeking” but rather imposed on it by “the crown.”

    Just as Freeman distorted history to paper over Virginia’s racist social order, so too did he use his reach as a newspaper editor to promulgate the view that Black people were an inferior race and to advocate for eugenics. Fearing “pollutions of blood” through interracial marriage and relationships and believing “the more ignorant the parents, the more children they are apt to bring into the world,” Freeman supported the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 — which targeted people of color and those whom one eugenicist called “low grade white stocks” — and praised its involuntary sterilization measure for its “beneficent effects.”

    In editorial after editorial, the report documents, Freeman “primed the public for an acceptance of eugenics’ principles, primarily through tapping into his readers’ existing beliefs in white supremacy, although at times he also used racial fearmongering.” Of interracial marriage he wrote, “[N]o man can defy social usage, the custom of the tribe, and fail to pay the price.” Freeman insisted that preventing these marriages was a “biological” necessity.

    While Freeman opposed lynching and other forms of mob-violence and vigilantism, he worked to entrench social and political inequality. Freeman advocated for “separation by consent” as the best way to segregate society. In his paternalistic view, Virginia could achieve racial stability only if Black people comported themselves as “the best Negroes in America” — and whites then provided them with access to better homes and basic services. When the Truman Administration issued a report calling for an end to segregation in higher education, Freeman dissented. When he worried about the specter of Black voter dominance, he launched a fusillade of editorials to stoke white fear and further dilute Black voting power.

    “While Freeman did not think of himself as an extremist and, at times, disagreed with racial purity activists,” the report concludes, “his was a disagreement of approach rather than principle.”

    Historically, the University of Richmond held Freeman in high esteem and viewed him as an exemplar of academic excellence, benefitting from his stature in Virginia and nationally as a celebrated historian and public intellectual. And he was, without question, deeply devoted to the University. From our contemporary vantage point, however, it is painfully obvious that the intellectual foundations of Freeman’s success betray our standards for academic excellence today. Indeed, his views of Black people as inferior to whites, his promotion of eugenics and racial purity, and his insistence on segregation in education and throughout society are abhorrent and wholly alien to the work of our institution today. The University unequivocally rejects and condemns the racist views held and promoted by Douglas Southall Freeman and his advocacy of racial injustice and eugenics grounded in those views.

    Confronting the Past and Moving Forward

    As a 73-year-old Black academic, I have found myself countless times walking through the halls of various universities and buildings named after men who not only did not look like me or hold my values but would most likely have viewed me as inferior and an interloper simply because of my skin color. As a university president, I have been tempted to use my position to relegate such men to the ash heap of history.

    Yet, as I have often said to you, our nation has never fully examined and grappled with slavery, segregation, and the resulting ongoing systemic disparities. This failure to face our history has slowed our progress. As historian Margaret MacMillan reminds us, history is not “a pile of dead leaves or a collection of dusty artifacts,” but rather more like “a pool, sometimes benign, often sulfurous, that lies under the present, silently shaping our institutions, our ways of thought, our likes and dislikes.”

    At the University of Richmond, we have made a choice to confront our history with honesty and purpose and to identify gaps and crucial stories of people previously excluded from our institutional narrative.

    In its 2019 report and recommendations, the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity stated that we could achieve a more accurate institutional history through a “braided narrative” in which “[t]he story of one group is not the story of everyone, though they intertwine.” The University’s history is neither a singular story nor always one of progress. Our past intertwines with our city, state, and nation in ways that are at once deep and diverse, complex and painful at times, inspiring at others. This conceptualization of our past informs where we go from here.

    We will braid memory into the fabric of daily life at the University. In harmony with the campus’s Collegiate Gothic style, we will use our landscape to create meaningful encounters with our past, embedding reminders — such as historical displays, signage, and spaces for remembrance and reflection — that foster greater understanding of our history.

    These reminders will put into productive tension the diverse threads of our history, representing both the University’s progress and its shortcomings. They will tell of the University’s relationship to slavery and segregation; of the people who endured and resisted racial oppression and those who defended its injustices; and of milestones and pathbreakers not presently part of our institutional narrative.

    In response to the Ryland and Freeman report findings specifically, and keeping with our commitment to a fuller, more inclusive, and thus more accurate telling of the University’s history, we will do the following:

    1. Ryland Hall. When Ryland Hall reopens, we will immediately turn our attention to vividly and fully telling there the story of the founding of Richmond College and the role of Robert Ryland, including his role as an enslaver and the complexities of his role at First African Baptist Church. We will also permanently recognize the people Ryland enslaved, including those who were forced to labor on Richmond College’s campus. In addition, the terrace of the new Humanities Commons, which will provide a place for outdoor reflection and conversation, will be named for an enslaved person or persons whose name/s and stories were recovered through our inclusive history research. Rather than determine the specific name/s at this time, we will make that decision as a community after engaging with the research and through a process led by distinguished scholars on our faculty. I look forward to the campus community’s involvement. Finally, we will also digitize and make available to researchers institutional records from the Ryland era to ensure full transparency about the University’s history and actions during this period.
    2. Mitchell-Freeman Hall. The Board of Trustees has approved my recommendation to rename Freeman Hall as “Mitchell-Freeman Hall” to honor the life and work of John Mitchell Jr. (1863–1929), a former enslaved person with a complex story, who became the editor of the African American newspaper the Richmond Planet — and some of whose descendants are members of the University of Richmond community. Known as the “Fighting Editor,” Mitchell “became one of the most powerful Black voices in late 19th- and early 20th-century publishing,” according to the Freeman report. As an anti-lynching advocate, Richmond city council representative before disenfranchisement, leader of the boycott against segregated streetcars in Richmond, and founder of the Mechanic’s Bank, Mitchell consistently challenged white supremacy. His life was not without controversy. He was convicted of bank fraud and was jailed for two weeks before being released; the conviction was ultimately overturned.

    A fearless champion of racial justice, Mitchell often challenged Freeman’s editorial stances and never hesitated to denounce his racism. On one occasion, for example, Freeman praised the patriotism of African Americans enlisting to fight in World War I, although in a racist manner saying many of them had “the physique of giants” but “the minds of children.” While Mitchell seemed to look past some of Freeman’s words about African American patriotism, he did shine a spotlight on the hollowness of his praise. “What are we to receive in the way of recognition for this loyalty?” Mitchell wrote. “We have been promised improved housing conditions. Have we secured these conditions? ... We have been told that the segregation laws recently enacted will work out to our betterment. Have we been able to observe naught else but irritation and humiliation on the part of those entrusted with its enforcement?” As Mitchell made clear, Freeman and others like him were hypocritical in praising African Americans for shouldering the burdens of citizenship while denying them its privileges.

    We will recount the history of both Freeman and Mitchell at Mitchell-Freeman Hall, documenting Freeman’s achievements and dedication to the University, while also openly recognizing his racist beliefs and advocacy for segregation and eugenics. That is part of telling the full and true story. In addition, we will shine a spotlight on how Mitchell did not allow Freeman’s mistaken assertions about African Americans and segregation to go unchecked — and how he embodied personally the kind of intellectual and professional achievement that Freeman believed impossible for Black people. This juxtaposition provides a more accurate representation of Freeman and the realities of his time, as well as evidence that there were always critical voices and obvious facts that challenged and contradicted Freeman’s positions.


    Our student governments raised the question of removing Ryland’s and Freeman’s names from the buildings on our campus. The Board and I gave full consideration to this important question but ultimately decided that such action was not the best course for our University or the educational purpose we serve. I firmly believe that removing Ryland’s and Freeman’s names would not compel us to do the hard, necessary, and uncomfortable work of grappling with the University’s ties to slavery and segregation. It would not move us closer toward a fuller, more cohesive institutional narrative. It would not keep a spotlight on how historical University leaders also acted in ways to impede progress. It would not help us achieve a fuller understanding of Black history, which most in our country still do not recognize as an essential part of American history. It would instead lead to further cultural and institutional silence and, ultimately, forgetting.

    No Richmond graduate should leave us without a deeper understanding of the roles of slavery and segregation in our institution, our state, and our nation. That’s why the path we are forging will amplify the nuances and tensions of our history in a way our University has never done before, expanding upon the more common but woefully incomplete narrative of our past.

    With Mitchell-Freeman Hall, for example, I want to use Freeman’s name as a vehicle to open our eyes to the ways in which prominent and well-regarded people embraced white supremacy and promoted the idea that the Black race was inferior to justify oppression and exclusion. I want to add Mitchell’s name to highlight the lived experience of those on our campus and in our city who both suffered through and subverted racial oppression — and to recognize the resilience of African Americans in the face of centuries of injustice. I want Mitchell’s name next to Freeman to remind us of the courage, creativity, and tenacity it takes to dismantle systemic racism and build a more inclusive society.


    Over the coming months, we will hold a series of forums about our research on Ryland and enslavement, Freeman and segregation, and the enslaved burying ground on what is now our campus to engage our community in confronting our history. I encourage and invite all community members to participate in these important conversations. Informed by the research findings, we will also seek the campus community’s input on naming the Humanities Commons terrace. In addition, the Burial Ground Memorialization Committee will continue working with campus and descendant communities to recognize and appropriately memorialize the enslaved burying ground desecrated by the University in the mid-20th century. This, too, is part of the braided narrative of which we are stewards as is recognition of the True Reformers, a leading African American mutual benefit association of the post-Reconstruction era who owned a portion of the land that is now our campus from 1897–1909. Theirs is another often overlooked story of African American self-determination.

    As we have done throughout our inclusive history work and through the Race and Racism Project and inclusive history classes, we will incorporate faculty expertise and offer student learning opportunities to advance our work and foster greater understanding of our inclusive history. I will share more information about how our community can contribute to these efforts in the coming weeks.


    Uncomfortable pasts can lead to challenging conversations that point to ways forward. Such conversations will most certainly be difficult and painful at times. But they are just as necessary as they are difficult if we are to live up to our promise as a truly inclusive community, welcoming Spiders from all backgrounds. I am proud that our community has taken on this challenge and resolved to tell a fuller, more inclusive story of who we were, are, and aspire to be as a University. I look forward to our continued work together.


    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • Feb. 25, 2021: Inclusive History: Statement from the Board of Trustees

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    The Board of Trustees has received with appreciation and considered with care the research reports that President Crutcher initiated to ensure a fuller, more accurate, and inclusive understanding of the University’s history with respect to enslavement, segregation, and race. We are grateful to President Crutcher for his leadership in commissioning this important research; to the President’s Commission for Institutional History and Identity that recommended the research; and to the research team, led by Dr. Lauranett Lee, for their excellent work. We urge all members of the University community to read these reports in their entirety and engage in discussion about the history they illuminate.

    As Trustees, we have been especially interested in understanding the role the Board played in the matters documented in the Ryland, Burial Ground, and Freeman reports. As the research shows, the Board acted in a manner that was wrong and regrettable. The Board ultimately oversaw the hiring out of enslaved persons to labor for Richmond College and its precursor institution. When an anonymous claim was made that Robert Ryland was teaching the tenets of abolition to students, the Board publicly asserted that the “charges made against” Ryland were “without foundation and proven to be false” and that the Board had complete confidence in Ryland’s “views on the subject of slavery.” Records suggest that the Board’s President (the role now known as Rector) was aware of the desecration of an enslaved burial ground in developing the current campus in the early 20th century. And the Board supported Douglas Freeman despite his advocacy for segregation, disenfranchisement, racial purity measures, and eugenics — advocacy arising from false and racist beliefs. We have received these findings with humility and sadness, and we deeply regret these actions.

    The Board fully endorses the steps announced by President Crutcher in response to the research findings: 1) the naming of the courtyard bridging Ryland Hall and the Humanities Commons to recognize and honor an enslaved person or persons whose names were recovered through the research into the Ryland era; 2) memorializing the enslaved burial ground on campus with input from the campus and descendant communities; 3) the renaming of Freeman Hall as Mitchell-Freeman Hall to educate our community about and honor John Mitchell’s courage and tenacity in opposition to the injustices Freeman sought to perpetuate; and 4) ensuring that the University visibly acknowledges its historic relationship to slavery and segregation and also acknowledges and celebrates milestones and pathbreakers not currently part of our institutional narrative.

    The Board shares President Crutcher’s belief that as an educational institution we must ensure that accounts of our history are honest and evermore complete and that understanding our history spurs us toward building a stronger and more inclusive community. We look forward to continued work with President Crutcher and the University community to fulfill this crucial commitment.

    Board of Trustees, University of Richmond

  • May 7, 2020: Progress on Key Institutional Initiatives

    Dear Campus Community,

    Normally, I am privileged to spend the final weeks of our academic year with you in various venues, celebrating our students, faculty, and staff’s enduring contributions to the Spider community. It is always one of the highlights of my year, and it saddens me that I cannot acknowledge your many contributions this academic year and thank you in person. While circumstances prevent us from being together, I would still like to pause and reflect on the remarkable progress we have made on several key initiatives this year, and to thank everyone who has worked so hard to advance these priorities.

    Making Excellence Inclusive

    In July 2019, we released Making Excellence Inclusive: Report and Recommendations, outlining an ambitious plan to make Richmond a more inclusive and welcoming community for all. We appointed an interim senior administrative officer (SAO) and an Institutional Coordinating Council (ICC) to distribute leadership work across the institution — and to propel cultural change at Richmond. While the racist and xenophobic incidents on campus this past January — and our students’ admirable activism and advocacy thereafter — remind us that we have considerably more work to do, we have also made significant progress. I encourage you to review our MEI work plan for a comprehensive overview of progress to date. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Amy Howard for her leadership and vision as interim SAO, and to the ICC’s members and its co-chairs, Dr. Patricia Herrera and Dr. Glyn Hughes, for their work connecting and communicating MEI initiatives and goals across campus.

    President’s Student Cabinet

    This past January’s racist and xenophobic incidents demonstrated not only the urgency of our efforts to foster a safe, respectful, and welcoming community for all, but also a critical need to better connect students and University leadership. In February, I announced the creation of a President’s Student Cabinet, comprising current students from across the institution and intended to foster communication, engagement, and collaboration among students and the University’s senior leadership. Student Cabinet members will be selected to represent the broadest possible range of student backgrounds, interests, experiences, identities, and ideologies. Formal recruitment of the inaugural Cabinet class will begin in August. Faculty and staff may nominate students to serve, or encourage them to self-nominate. I look forward to convening and working with this group in the fall.

    University History and Memorialization

    We have continued to deepen our shared understanding of the University’s past as we work together to foster a more inclusive future. In January, I established the Burial Ground Memorialization Committee, co-chaired by President Emeritus Edward Ayers and Vice President and Chief Information Officer Keith “Mac” McIntosh, to engage the campus and broader community in constructive dialogue on how to memorialize the enslaved burial ground located on what is now our campus, and the history of this land, including its sustained intersections with enslavement. The committee began its work this semester, hosting open meetings to learn about the extensive research on the burial ground, completed by Shelby Driskill and Dr. Lauranett Lee in December. I invite you to read their report and watch a video presentation of their research findings.

    The committee has engaged Mrs. Brenda D. Nichols, a Henrico County public historian, as a consultant and advisor for our work with descendant communities. While the committee’s progress has been interrupted by COVID-19, when conditions allow, the committee will resume its work, including important meetings with members of the descendant community and campus community to discuss appropriate and meaningful ways to formally memorialize the burial ground and the land’s connection to enslavement. It is my hope that the committee can complete its work and make a recommendation in December. I am grateful to the members of the committee for their commitment to this important effort.

    Free Expression

    Finally, community dialogue continued throughout this year regarding free expression on our campus. Last spring, I convened a Task Force on Free Expression to review our institutional practice and policies related to free expression and academic freedom at the University. I charged the Task Force with determining whether the University would benefit from a definitive statement on free expression, and if so, with drafting a statement for our community’s consideration. Over seven months, the Task Force carefully studied the national discussion regarding free expression in higher education; reviewed free expression statements from a range of other colleges and universities; and ultimately determined the University would benefit from having a statement rooted in our own educational mission and institutional values. The Task Force drafted a Statement on Free Expression, which I am pleased to share with you. Provost Legro and I will consult with representative groups across campus during the fall semester to discuss the recommended Statement and will consider comments and suggestions submitted online. We expect to finalize the recommended Statement before the end of the fall semester. I am grateful to Professor Kurt Lash and the members of the Task Force, who thoughtfully and diligently fulfilled their charge, and I look forward to discussing their recommended Statement with the campus community next semester.

    These brief updates hardly do justice to all the hard work undergirding our progress, not only for those named here, but also for so many of you who have contributed your strategic thinking and candid feedback to propel these initiatives. Advancing inclusion, grappling with complicated histories, and fortifying free expression present challenging work for us all, but they are critically important to our educational mission and our institutional culture. Thank you for your countless contributions to our shared efforts. All of you are the reason why I am — and will always remain — profoundly grateful to lead the University of Richmond.

    I wish you good health and continued well-being during this challenging time, and I look forward to seeing you all once again.

    With gratitude,

    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • Jan. 16, 2020: Report on the Westham Burying Ground at the University of Richmond

    January 16, 2020

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    I write to follow up on my October 30 message regarding this year’s institutional history research to share with you “Knowledge of this cannot be hidden”: Report on the Westham Burying Ground at the University of Richmond. The report stems from last year’s Presidential Commission for University History and Identity (Commission), which rightly challenged our community to tell a fuller, more inclusive history of the University, and where most germane, to position that history within the larger story of our city and state. I believe the report has met that challenge, addressing important questions about the reported enslaved burial ground on what is now our campus and tracing a history of this land and its inhabitants over more than three centuries. I am grateful to public historian and visiting lecturer Dr. Lauranett L. Lee and Shelby M. Driskill, a member of the research team and School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) graduate student, for their excellent work leading this effort, and I urge you to read and consider the report.

    Burial Ground Research

    Richmond College, precursor to the University of Richmond, acquired the land that is now our campus in 1910 and has occupied it since 1914. Documents located during this academic year’s research confirm that the institution was aware as early as 1912 that a cemetery existed near the southeastern edge of Westhampton Lake behind today’s Puryear and Richmond halls. In July of 1912, Warren H. Manning, landscape advisor for the new campus, notified Richmond College board chair — and prominent Lost Cause proponent — James Taylor Ellyson that a planned new road would traverse the graveyard, including “at least 20 graves,” and recommended relocating any human remains to another cemetery. Manning added, “Knowledge of this cannot be hidden.” Known records do not clearly reveal how the College responded, but evidence indicates that knowledge of the burial ground was met with indifference and the road was constructed.

    This year’s research, alongside a substantial SPCS graduate student research project begun last year by Shelby Driskill and supported by many UR faculty and staff, documents several links between the land and enslavement, leading us to believe that the “Westham burying ground” was for enslaved people. The evidence includes:

    1. From around 1753 to 1865, hundreds of enslaved people lived, labored, and suffered under the plantation system on the land that is now our campus.
    2. In addition to the 1912 references to the cemetery, there are three other documented instances in which human remains were found near the southeastern edge of Westhampton Lake. This area — like known burial grounds for enslaved people — was located far from and at lower ground than the landowners’ homes.
    3. Several historical sources both refer to the existence of a burial ground and cite it as a place where African Americans were buried.

    To bolster our research, the University engaged Naeva Geophysics in the fall to undertake a ground penetrating radar (GPR) study of the reported burial ground site to determine what physical evidence may remain. As I communicated last semester, the results were inconclusive due to unfavorable soil and ground conditions, which is not unusual. Yet, while extensive research did not explicitly determine who was buried there and when, the historical and geographical context for the discoveries of human remains supports the likelihood that the site is an enslaved burial ground.

    As the report documents, it is clear that the leadership of Richmond College and its board in the early 20th century, and of the University of Richmond in the 1940s and ’50s, knew of the burial ground. Yet on several occasions the College desecrated the cemetery as it moved forward with developing the campus. As mentioned earlier, we believe the College built a road through the burial ground even after it received an explicit warning in 1912 that such construction would expose graves. Then, in both 1947 and 1955–1956, construction workers accidentally uncovered human remains from the burial ground while upgrading campus infrastructure. The University condoned reburying the remains at an unrecorded location. This devaluing of human life and dignity conforms with the long and painful history of dehumanizing enslaved persons. The Board of Trustees and I are deeply saddened by these discoveries. We profoundly regret the acts of desecration and the silences in our historical narrative.

    History of Enslavement and Post-Emancipation

    In addition to advancing our understanding of the burial ground, the report also sheds new light on the history of this land and lifts up stories of people previously excluded from history, just as the Commission recommended.

    We now know that the familiar story of the University moving to the site of a former amusement park in 1914 leaves out a complex and painful history of enslavement on these grounds. Before the University acquired the land, it was for more than a century part of a series of plantations run on enslaved labor. From at least 1753 to 1865, hundreds of people were enslaved by a succession of the land’s owners, forced to labor in their fields, mills, mines, and homes. Dr. Lee and Ms. Driskill have done outstanding work recovering and telling the stories of some of the enslaved, who had been all but forgotten and erased by history. I urge you to read their stories, which put a human face on the institution of slavery and its injustices.

    As the report documents, the history of this land also encompasses important stories of freed people’s leadership, self-determination, and achievement. It is heartening to read of the vision and accomplishments of William Washington Browne, founder of the True Reformers, the Richmond-based African American mutual aid organization that held a large parcel of what is now our campus in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The True Reformers used this land in various ways to advance their work growing and supporting the black middle class.

    Going forward, it is my sincere hope and intention that the story of this land continues to be one of progress. That means building a more inclusive Richmond where all our members benefit from the rich diversity of our campus and learn how to achieve meaningful understanding across lines of difference. We have more work to do to achieve this goal, but together we can fulfill our commitment to inclusive excellence and become the thriving intercultural community we aspire to be.

    Next Steps

    As is the case with good research, we have made important discoveries while opening new avenues of exploration. We recognize that we are not the sole custodians or interpreters of this land’s history, which is why we invite additional information from the broader community, especially descendants of the enslaved who lived, labored, and may have been buried here. Only together can we tell a fuller history of this land, remembering and memorializing those whom existing narratives have excluded or forgotten.

    To that end, I have recently appointed a memorialization committee charged with: 1) engaging the campus and broader community in dialogue about the complex history of this land detailed in the report; 2) memorializing the enslaved who lived and labored on these grounds and the burial ground where we believe some of them rest; and 3) making a specific recommendation about appropriate memorialization. The Committee will be co-chaired by Vice President and Chief Information Officer Keith “Mac” McIntosh, who has led diversity and inclusion efforts locally and nationally, and President Emeritus Edward L. Ayers, an eminent historian of the American South and co-chair with Dr. Lee of the 2018-19 Commission.

    As part of our commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Committee, Dr. Lee, and Ms. Driskill will also convene a conversation about the research findings on Monday, January 20 at 1 p.m. in the Wilton Center Multifaith Room. I hope that many of you will participate in this initial conversation, and we look forward to additional conversations on campus and in the community throughout the spring semester.

    The Provost’s Office is supporting student engagement with a more inclusive university history in two ways. Faculty were invited to develop and teach a spring 2020 course that includes the study of our institutional history and its legacies. I am pleased to report that six courses are now being taught across a range of disciplines. (For more information, please contact interim Senior Administrative Officer, Dr. Amy Howard.) Building on the Race and Racism Project pilot, Dr. Ernest McGowen was recently appointed to lead student research and faculty participation in understanding our history of race and race relations. (If interested in participating in this project, including student summer research, please contact

    Research on Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman will also continue this semester and involve engaging a number of stakeholders. I look forward to sharing a progress report later this spring, and I am grateful to Dr. Lee and the researchers assisting her for their efforts.

    Finally, moving forward, the University is committed to responsibly managing the burial ground site. We will not disturb the area unless absolutely necessary to repair existing infrastructure, and if that need arises, we will follow all appropriate protocols and exhibit appropriate care and respect.

    The history of the land where we study, work, and learn together is complicated. It is not a simple story, nor should we try to make it one. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Lee, Ms. Driskill, and everyone else who has contributed to this important work thus far, as well as to the members of the memorialization committee and to all who will participate in our community conversations this spring. I look forward to our continued work together to examine, understand, and communicate our past more fully and inclusively.


    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • Oct. 30, 2019: Institutional History Update

    Dear Members of the University Community,

    I write to provide an update on work under way this academic year to understand more fully and communicate more inclusively aspects of the University’s history.

    As you may recall, following release of the June 30 Making Excellence Inclusive report and recommendations, we began to pursue specific recommendations made by the President’s Advisory Committee for Making Excellence Inclusive, the Interim Coordinating Council, and the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity (the Commission). I am grateful to all in our community who work daily to advance our shared aspirations and ambitious goals in support of a thriving and inclusive community at Richmond.

    Historical Research
    This summer the University started to implement recommendations from the Commission, engaging Dr. Lauranett Lee, who served as co-chair of the Commission and is a nationally recognized public historian and current visiting faculty member, to lead this year’s institutional history work. To date, the historical research has examined evidence of a possible burial ground for enslaved people on what is today our campus, as well as traced the previous owners and inhabitants of our land.

    Burial Ground Evidence and the Uses of the Land
    Questions about the burial ground arose in response to two reported instances of human remains being discovered and reinterred on our campus grounds in the mid-20th century. We anticipate Dr. Lee and her team will complete their current burial ground research in early December. While it is uncertain what the research will yield, we are confident that at the very least it will help us tell a more expansive and inclusive history, as called for by the Commission.

    The larger contours of the historical research are still taking shape, but we already know our campus grounds hold a story that is deep and diverse, complex and painful at times, inspiring and progressive at others. Indigenous people, including members of the Monacan Nation and the Powhatan Confederacy, formed settlements and trade routes in the area in the centuries before European colonists and enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in the early 1600s. The current research, alongside a substantial SPCS graduate student research project begun last year and supported by many UR faculty and staff, confirms that a significant number of enslaved persons lived, labored, and suffered on the land where our campus is now located through the 18th century and the first two-thirds of the 19th century. The research also discusses a Richmond, Virginia, based African American mutual aid organization, the True Reformers, that held a large parcel of this land in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The True Reformers were highlighted in a report edited by W.E.B. Dubois as “probably the most remarkable” African American organization in the country in terms of its scale and range of business enterprises.

    These stories of the land predate our acquisition of our campus grounds in 1910, yet it is fully consistent with our educational mission to uncover, understand, and share this history, since it intertwines with the history of our city, region, and nation. We also recognize that we are not the sole custodians or interpreters of this history, which is why we will publicly share our initial research once it is complete in early December. We will then invite additional information from the broader community, including descendants of those enslaved by the property’s owners, as we continue to understand the history of this land and ensure that we remember and memorialize those whom existing narratives have excluded or forgotten.

    To bolster our research, last month the University engaged Naeva Geophysics to undertake a ground penetrating radar (GPR) study of the area where the burial ground is believed to be located, according to historical references. Naeva undertook the study on September 16, and the results came back inconclusive, which is not unusual. GPR fails at times to detect the existence of graves or remains due to soil conditions and decomposition over time. Nevertheless, the historical significance of this research warranted the GPR investigation. While the historical research is ongoing, we are committed to responsibly managing the area of campus that is under study.

    Ryland and Freeman
    Research on Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman — also recommended by the Commission — recently commenced and will continue into the spring semester. This process will involve a wide range of research and engagement with a number of communities. I look forward to sharing a progress report in the spring, and I am grateful to Dr. Lee and the researchers assisting her for bringing their rigor, dedication, and expertise to these important studies.

    Additional Academic Initiatives
    This fall, the Provost’s Office invited faculty to develop and teach a spring 2020 course engaging students in our institutional history and its legacies. I am pleased to report that six courses will be taught this spring across a range of disciplines. There are also opportunities for students to engage with our ongoing institutional research during the school year and summer. For more information, please contact interim Senior Administrative Officer, Dr. Amy Howard.

    I look forward to continuing to work together to examine, understand, and communicate our past more fully and inclusively.


    Ronald A. Crutcher