“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The University of Richmond’s moral history is long, but it, too, bends towards justice. Established as a Baptist institution to train young men for the ministry, UR has become a nationally and internationally recognized top liberal arts college, committed in word and action to admitting students of all backgrounds.

In an effort to progress along this arc, the University and the School of Arts & Sciences have both identified goals of creating an accessible, thriving campus community that values all perspectives. "In a time when students from all social, cultural, and economic backgrounds meet on college campuses, we must explore what equity-minded education means,” said A&S Dean Patrice Rankine. “How do ensure that all of our students, staff, and faculty thrive?”

Supported by a Mellon Foundation grant, a group of faculty recently spent a week engaging this topic at the University’s first Arc of Racial Justice Institute (ARJ). 

ARJ was centered on the belief that we have to know our institution’s history in order to change our future. “We envisioned ARJ as a space for faculty to come together to learn from each other, share expertise, and contribute to the building of a supportive environment in order make UR a place that centers on racial justice,” said Nicole Maurantonio, associate professor of rhetoric and one of the Institute’s organizers.

16 faculty members from 13 disciplines ranging from music to philosophy, all committed to racial justice in their scholarship and teaching, gathered for a week of workshops and conversation. “I saw the ARJ Institute as a way to connect with other faculty across campus who were interested in social justice issues,” said associate professor of political science Andrea Simpson, “and I needed this opportunity to learn more about the city of Richmond.” 

The Institute grounded the study of social and racial inequality in place-based exploration through the lens of the city of Richmond, the former capitol of the Confederacy, with a 400-year history of racial justice and injustice. Participants walked on sacred ground, visiting the sites of Richmond’s Slave Trail and East End Cemetery, an African American burial ground dating back to 1897. They visited the often controversial monuments to the Confederacy. They participated in a public history art project with local organization, Untold RVA. And along the way they heard from experts who provided context on the city of Richmond and the University of Richmond’s storied and often challenging past.

“As a new faculty member, I did not know much about the history of UR, its land, its integration process, and its relationship to the city of Richmond,” said Atiya Husain, assistant professor of sociology. “I was surprised to learn was that some of the university’s archives, even if they are from the 1930s, are perpetually under lock and key and are inaccessible for students, faculty, and the public.”

Each afternoon, following their experiential learning tours in the city, the group gathered for facilitated conversations, where they asked hard questions of each other, and of the University:

  • How can issues of racial justice and inequality be incorporated into the curriculum?
  • How can we change the campus culture for students and faculty of color?
  • How can faculty and staff make a safe space for students when they themselves don’t always feel safe?

And while they may not have come up with all the answers, they each came away with a personal action plan as to how they could contribute to the greater effort of making UR more racially just, and a commitment to work together to affect change on campus.

“The time is ripe to draw upon our existing strengths to create permanent intellectual, curricular, and co-curricular pathways that prepare faculty to best lead, through their scholarship and teaching, in the area of social justice,” said Rankine. “I was thrilled to see our faculty engaged during the Institute, and am excited for the possibilities it presents moving forward.”

Faculty Projects

Each ARJ faculty participant has plans for how they might incorporate racial justice into their existing scholarship and teaching.

Andrea SimpsonAndrea Simpson, political science

“I’m currently looking at lead toxicity in drinking water in local schools. I’m teaching a course on Environmental Justice this coming year, and the Institute gave me a number of resources to develop a meaningful experiential learning component.”

Camilla NonterahCamilla Nonterah, psychology

“My teaching and research focuses on health disparities and health equity, which cannot be attained without addressing social justice issues. ARJ provided a pathway for making connections to gather information about the history of Richmond and its connection to current health disparities; I plan to incorporate this information into two of my courses and hope to develop a co-authored book with students.”

Will RecknerWill Reckner, philosophy

“ARJ gave me new ideas and material to expand my philosophy of race and racism unit in my Philosophy 101 class. I’m also starting work on an article on the use and misuse of concepts like personhood and human nature in moral and political theory.”

Monti DattaMonti Datta,
political science

“I had already planned to take the students in my SSIR course on Human Rights and Modern Slavery to visit the Richmond Slave Trail to understand the nature and impact of historic enslavement in Richmond. After working with Free Egunfemi from Untold RVA, I’m considering having my students record scripts about contemporary slavery that can be accessed by phone by those who walk the Richmond Slave Trail today.”

Dean, School of Arts and Sciences
Professor of Classics