Dear members of the university community:
Since the news of trustee Paul Queally’s comments broke in International Business Times (Feb. 5, 2014), many students, faculty and staff have expressed their dismay. After nearly two weeks of disappointing silence from senior leadership, trustee Queally and Charles Ledsinger, rector of the board of trustees, issued statements to media that fell far short of what the campus community deserves to hear. Indeed, the campus community has yet to be addressed directly. As members of the University of Richmond community and as scholars and supporters of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), we write to the campus community to offer our perspective on the significance of the comments attributed to trustee Queally. We sent a similar letter to Ledsinger on Thursday this week in the hope that it might inform senior leadership’s interactions with the university community.
As scholars and teachers of WGSS, we know that all patterns of social inequality are sustained by ongoing explanations or rationales for why certain types of people deserve less than others—why, for example, it remains socially tolerable for women to be paid less than men for equal work or why gay or trans people can be so easily discarded from work, faith communities and their families. Social tolerance for such realities is justified by long histories of social policy, often validated by “science” (on women’s supposed mental limitations, for example) or religious views, and kept alive by the force of popular culture and private conversations.
In this light, trustee Queally’s comments cannot be minimized as simply unfortunate. Nor is the central problem with his comments that they have generated negative attention to the university. Rather, the central problem with trustee Queally’s comments is that they contribute to the larger and quite insidious social discourse that dehumanizes women and LGBTQ people. His comments, in other words, contribute to human suffering. We, therefore, reiterate our call on senior leadership to allow the gravity of that insight to inform the content and urgency of its engagement with the university community.
Our concerns at the moment, we should be clear, arise within a recent history of what we see as positive steps taken by the board of trustees and the Ayers administration in support of equity for women and LGBTQ members of the campus community. The addition of gender expression and gender identity to the university’s nondiscrimination policy, as well as approved funding for the LGBTQ Lounge in Common Ground and the WGSS endowed chair, are among a few of the important steps undertaken recently by the board that have fostered our optimism.
Our desire is to move beyond this particular situation in ways that honor the core values of the Richmond Promise and that build our community’s collective capacity to fulfill its broadest vision. Our hope is that, in the process of moving through the current situation, we can foster a more robust and ongoing dialogue of how we can all best enact the Richmond Promise. To this end, we look forward to next Tuesday’s forum for dialogue and healing organized by our colleague Ted Lewis, associate director of Common Ground for LGBTQ campus life.
Crystal Hoyt, associate professor of leadership studies and psychology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program coordinator
Jennifer W. Nourse, associate professor of anthropology and WGSS
Lázaro Lima, E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Chair in the Liberal Arts and professor of Latin American and Iberian Studies and American studies and WGSS Board Member
Holly Blake, director of Women Involved in Living and Learning (WILL) program and associate dean for women’s education and development
Julietta Singh, assistant professor of English and WGSS board member
Glyn Hughes, director of Common Ground and affiliated faculty in sociology and anthropology
Melissa Ooten, associate director, WILL program
Mariela Mendez de Coudriet, assistant professor of LAIS and WGSS board member
Ted Lewis, associate director for LGBTQ Campus Life in the Office of Common Ground
Lucretia McCulley, head of scholarly communications and liaison librarian for WGSS