Inclusive History: Statement from the Board of Trustees

February 25, 2021

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