University of Richmond President Edward Ayers choked back tears at a Common Ground forum Tuesday night when he responded to feelings expressed by university community members regarding the comments made by board of trustees member Paul Queally.
“It is humbling to see that no matter how hard we work, what we have built can be damaged quickly,” Ayers said in the last comment of the night. “But I hope it can be healed quickly as well. We can’t lose the work that all the people in this room have been doing. I’m grateful for your patience, and I’m grateful for your impatience as well.”
The forum was organized by Ted Lewis, associate director of Common Ground for LGBTQ Campus Life. Lewis said he had organized the event because Queally’s comments had evoked a lot of different emotions around campus and he felt everyone needed a safe space to express that.
Approximately 100 faculty, staff, students and community members gathered for the event in the Alice Haynes Room. The room was arranged with seating in a large circle and attendees were invited to say anything that was on their mind.
Board of trustees member Allison Weinstein attended the event and spoke just before Ayers. Allison is the daughter of alumni and donors Marcus and Carole Weinstein. She said she had been “sickened” by what had happened and wanted to say she was sorry the community was going through this.
“I’m completely committed to equality,” Weinstein said. “This shows how much work there still needs to be done.”
W. Clark Williams Jr., associate dean and professor in the University of Richmond School of Law, said it was important for professors to let their students know where they stood on issues such as this and encourage discussion in their classrooms.
“It’s important for me to take a few moments in class tomorrow and address it,” Williams said. “They have to know where we stand.”
Mel Shuaipi, a business student, said the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business needed to reclaim itself and specifically address the issues in a business context.
“This is not going to overshadow the work we do,” Shuaipi said. “[The business school owes] it to the University of Richmond community to set an example.”
She suggested that the business school sponsor more workshops on subjects such as sexism in the work place.
An anonymous Richmond College student agreed with Shuaipi that workshops in the business school would be beneficial because they would be business school-oriented. He said events like the forum often attracted a certain type of student, and the conversation needed to be taken to many other areas of the school. He said he would be proud to see a response such as the one Shuaipi proposed taking place in the business school.
An anonymous Westhampton College student said she had originally not been upset by Queally’s comments, but after seeing the statements of support on the Richmond Confessions Facebook page, she had felt differently.
“On the outside, we are sorry,” she said, “but silently and anonymously, it does get support. And that layer, it hurt me.”
Many faculty and staff members spoke about the progress Richmond has made in expanding its diversity on campus and improving the resources for students on campus who may feel alienated. Many attendees said Richmond has made such great strides in these areas and the community could not forget that.
“The only way we can counter this is to do what we do and be who we are,” dean of Richmond College Joe Boehman said. “We are not those comments. We are better than that and let’s show it.”
Contact staff writer Katie Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org