Katharine DeRosa

Virginia universities reckon with Confederate symbols

By Katharine DeRosa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia universities in the former heart of the Confederacy are reckoning with their past as students, faculty and staff call for the removal of Confederate symbols.

Richmond housed the capital of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865. Over 150 years later, remnants of the commonwealth’s Confederate history remain, including in academia.

At least 71 symbols of the Confederacy were removed from public spaces in Virginia last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That includes multiple renamings of public schools. Only one symbol was removed prior to the murder of George Floyd. 

Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter to school board chairs in the commonwealth last July, urging public officials to change names and mascots that memorialized Confederate leaders.

“When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as our own,” Northam stated. “This is no longer acceptable.”

Several months later, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville removed the name of Confederate soldier Henry Malcolm Withers from a law school building. 

The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg approved the renaming of Trinkle and Maury halls. Trinkle Hall was named for former Virginia Gov. Elbert Lee Trinkle who signed Jim Crow legislation, according to the college’s board. Maury Hall was named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned his post as a U.S. Navy commander to join the Confederacy and helped it acquire ships.

The Virginia Military Institute in Lexington paid over $200,000 to remove a statue of Stonewall Jackson and relocate it to the Virginia Museum of the Civil War and New Market Battlefield State Historical Park.

University of Richmond

Anthony Lawrence, an accounting major at the University of Richmond, is president of the Richmond College Student Government Association. He established a space for multicultural students in the student commons his freshman year and is currently working to remove Confederate symbols on campus.

The university has two campus buildings named for men associated with slavery and segregation. 

Ryland Hall is named for slave owner Robert Ryland, the first president of Richmond College, the University of Richmond’s predecessor. Ryland also served as a pastor to the first African Baptist church in Richmond, according to the university. He called slavery a “divine right” and routinely enslaved and loaned slaves to others during his time as president, according to university researchers.

Mitchell-Freeman Hall was first named for Douglas Southall Freeman, who graduated from the university and served on the board of trustees. The university updated the name of Mitchell-Freeman Hall on Feb. 24 to honor former Richmond Planet Editor John Mitchell Jr. who was Black. Freeman was a journalist who advocated for segregation through “the Virginia Way” which suggests the elite have a duty to guide others, according to UR researchers

“If they want to have the historical impact that they say they do, there can be more, much more, done than a name on a building to tell the historical story,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence suggested plaques that explain the buildings’ history to inform students without honoring Confederate leaders. The university also could require a course to teach about the history of the university and associated officials. There is currently no explanation for the building names on campus, Lawrence said.

“There’s nothing that's really stopping them from changing the name except for their own, I guess, stubbornness,” Lawrence said.

The Black Lives Matter movement helped people examine the names and roles of campus buildings, Lawrence said.

“It can come to a head now because of the wonderful activism that we've seen in these past couple of years,” Lawrence said. “This past summer has really been an example of what can happen when we see change.” 

Students formed The Black Student Coalition in March to advocate for the wellbeing of Black students.

“Now it's impossible for the administration; it's impossible for the board of trustees to silence us because we're so strong, and because we have this coalition, and because we have each other,” Lawrence said.

Six percent of Richmond students identify as Black, according to the university. This makes Lawrence a minority student leader on campus.

“It's exhausting but the work is rewarding in a way that I don't think I ever would have known,” Lawrence said. 

Virginia Commonwealth University

The board of visitors at Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University voted in September to remove Confederate symbols from campus. The decision came after more than three years of review. 

More than a dozen dedicated spaces, memorials and plaques will be removed from both campuses, according to the university. The decision includes de-commemorating buildings with Confederate affiliation, such as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel. Davis was the president of the Confederacy. 

“The committee’s analysis revealed a more complete story of the meaning behind these memorials and commemorations that we can neither ignore nor celebrate and that impede our mission to serve all,” stated VCU President Michael Rao. 

Washington & Lee

Washington & Lee University in Lexington is named for former U.S. President George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee was president of the college for five years and the name was changed to Washington & Lee upon his death in 1870. Lee is buried on the campus. 

Students walked out of the university in late March to support dropping Lee’s name, according to WVTF. The board of trustees began soliciting input in July 2020 on the university’s name and Confederate symbols. The board will issue a final decision on the name in June, according to a statement by Rector Mike McAlevey.

Some professors also favor changing W&L’s name, including Mohamed Kamara, an associate professor of French and Africana studies. Kamara has been teaching at W&L since 2001 and was a founding member of the Africana Studies Program.

Kamara was drawn to the university because of the physical environment and academic freedom the administration offered him. 

“I am here because I love Washington & Lee, so that same love that I had for it when I first came here, I still have it,” Kamara said.

Kamara supports the student protests because of the effectiveness of protests in American history. He said the American Revolution was a protest of sorts where American colonists resorted to violence against Great Britain. 

“Most of what has been achieved in terms of positive development have been done through protests,” Kamara said.

Changing the name of the university would harm no one, Kamara said. It would save Black students the trauma of dealing with the institution of slavery when they come across the university’s name.

“It brings that memory that is not pleasant at all,” Kamara said.

Black people still feel the aftereffects of slavery even though it ended in the U.S. over 156 years ago, Kamara said. 

“For those of us who are members of the Black race, we will back Washington for what he did for the university and Robert E. Lee for whatever he did for the university,” Kamara said. “But at the same time, we cannot ignore that component of the history that subjugated people like us.” 

Washington and Lee were both slave owners, though Lee’s name is often the one brought up during renaming discussions, Kamara said. 

“I believe that issue is going to come up,” Kamara said. “There was a time when nobody talked about removing Lee’s name.”

Kamara is fine with removing only Lee’s name, but he believes changing the whole name is an opportunity for the university to take an extra step.

“It may make sense, as a sign of goodwill, as a sign of good faith to be ahead of our times,” Kamara said.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Women in academia report increased gender gap amid COVID-19

By Katharine DeRosa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – Political science professor Deirdre Condit put up a sheet as a makeshift door for her home office to maintain privacy when she started teaching from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Condit, who has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond since 1994, knows what it’s like to juggle work and home life. She said that while the house is often thought of as a woman’s space, women tend to have less places designated for productivity. “Man caves” have existed in family life, Condit said, and women are beginning to claim spaces such as “she shacks” to cultivate home territory.

“It’s harder to build that separation,” Condit said.

Women in academia are publishing less than they were before COVID-19. Gender gaps have long existed in the workplace, but the pandemic appears to be exacerbating them, according to a recent review authored by Merin Oleschuk, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

Oleschuk tracked the gender gap with research publications. She found that reports about international studies, political science, economics, medicine and philosophy have increased in number, but these reports are being authored by women at lower rates.

In heterosexual partnerships, women tend to bear more childcare labor, according to Oleschuk’s study, which focuses on gender inequities in academia. Oleschuk’s study also pointed out that studies about childcare burden and gender equity often assume heterosexual, nuclear families, which leaves out large demographics of women without children; women with nonmale partners and single women.

Condit said that women in queer nuclear families face the same situation as heterosexual families, since “somebody has to pick and choose” who will watch the children. She added that queer nuclear families are already at a disadvantage since women on average make less money than men. 

U.S. men’s median weekly earnings were $1,104 in the third quarter of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women’s median weekly earnings totaled $902 during that time period, or 81.7% of men’s earnings. Women face career interruptions in the workplace due to motherhood more often than men do due to fatherhood, according to the Pew Research Center. Reduced hours, taking time off, quitting jobs and refusing promotions all contribute to more career interruptions for mothers.

“The really tough situation is for single parents or single elder care providers, since you have no one else you can hand off every part of it to,” Condit said.

Kimberly Brown, an associate professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU, said that as a professor, her performance is based most heavily on research. 

Research is one of the three criteria considered for VCU faculty seeking tenure, an indefinite academic appointment. The other two are teaching and service, according to VCU’s website

Brown said that in addition to racism in the workplace, women of color disproportionately bear the emotional labor of students which can contribute to a lack of productivity. She said Black students were coming to her in increasing numbers this summer due to “dealing with overt racism, overt images of police brutality being often put in their face on social media.”

“I was trained to be a literature professor, not a psychologist,” Brown said.

Brown described emotional labor as emotional support without compensation and said that as a Black woman the labor is exhausting. 

“I’m feeling the same sort of ways,” Brown said.

Brown suggested that student evaluations of professors be reconsidered during this time, since many professors haven’t been trained in online teaching. She said that students should be more lenient with professors if professors are expected to be more lenient with students in the face of online learning.

In light of the pandemic, teaching faculty in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences will receive a default “excellent” rating on evaluations, according to an email Jennifer Malat, the college’s dean, sent to faculty. 

However, faculty who don’t perform their duties will not receive “excellent” ratings, Malat said. Evaluations include “multiple dimensions,” Malat said in a statement to Capital News Service. Faculty will receive feedback on their performance as well as recommendations for how they can improve their research, teaching and service in the future.

“A strategy for evaluations during the pandemic was challenging,” Malat said to CNS. “Many faculty, like students and staff, faced challenges in their work and personal lives. The committee recommended reducing stress on the particular rating of the evaluations and focusing on comments that will help improve performance in the future.”

Brown also suggested that universities extend the amount of time between promotions, colloquially known as tenure clocks, to allow professors more time to research. 

There have been more than 50 requests for tenure clock extensions by junior faculty on the Monroe Park campus at VCU, according to Mary Kate Brogan, public relations specialist at VCU.

Oleschuk’s publication created 10 suggestions for universities navigating tenure promotions, including providing a one-year extension to tenure track faculty, taking teacher evaluations out of consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic and excusing nonessential service requirements for those with caregiving demands.

“I don't think that it's fair to evaluate a person for a situation nobody predicted was going to happen,” Brown said.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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