RICHMOND, VA — Richmond students received an email from university president Ronald A. Crutcher on Friday afternoon. In the message, Crutcher informed students that racist graffiti had been found written on the door of an African-American student’s dorm room:
This morning we learned that overnight a severely disturbing racial epithet was written on the residence hall door of an African American student. This cowardly and racist act is profoundly hurtful and deeply offensive. The fact that this occurred on our campus the very week we commemorate the birth and historical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes this all the more disgusting. I say this both as president of the University of Richmond and an African American.
In response to the racist act, a contingent of Richmond students attended Saturday’s game against the No. 7 Dayton Flyers, using the platform afforded by the biggest home game of the year to spread their anti-hate message.
Dressed in black clothing and holding signs that read “an attack on one is an attack on all,” and “we will be heard,” those involved in the protest covered a large swath of the student section before ultimately leaving at halftime.
Freshman class president Gabriella Armon-Wickers organized the protest in hopes of increasing visibility to an issue she says is prevalent around the university.
“Since I got on campus, there has been blatant racism and a lot of derogatory things said towards my friends and I,” she said. “Richmond is a very conservative university where people in the board are conservative, so they don’t have the values and our messages at heart when they’re making decisions for the university.”
Armon-Wickers left the event optimistic about the student body’s support for the protest, particularly from students of color.
“Now that we’re able to get together and make a message this big is really big for the university,” she said.
Additionally, Jaide Hinds-Clarke, a senior forward on the Richmond women’s basketball team, attended the protest on Saturday, saying during halftime that, “students were fed up and angry, and they’re taking a stand.”
“I’m an advocate for student activism,” she said. “This is one of the biggest ways that we’re able to get together and connect and show a source of unity for something that is hurtful that is happening to our community.”
Hinds-Clarke also pointed out that Crutcher himself approached the group, along with other faculty and staff, to say they are proud of the students’ action.
“Them reiterating that and them coming up to us, and saying that to us while we’re doing this thing that might be considered controversial, I think that’s really powerful,” she said.
Once the game had concluded and the packed crowd at the Robins Center filed out following Richmond’s 87-79 loss, Spiders coach Chris Mooney took the podium to address the issue.
“I think that [Crutcher is] really out in front of it, and I think we’ll follow his lead,” Mooney said. “I feel terribly that that would happen.”
Redshirt junior Nick Sherod, a seasoned leader on this Spiders team, also affirmed his support for the protestors and their message.
“Some things are more important than basketball,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t want to intersect sports and social activities, but I don’t think that you can do that.”
Sherod went on to drive home the impact of the protest and his support for their message.
“This is just a game,” he said. “We move on. Whoever’s door that slur got written on — that’s gonna be with them for the rest of their life.”
The entire response is below, and it is worth watching in its entirety, as Sherod’s answer is thoughtful, meaningful, and a perfect response to anyone who says that sports and social issues are not meant to be combined:
After their game against @DaytonMBB, @SpiderMBB Nick Sherod was asked about some students who wore black shirts and held up signs against racism after a black student had a racial epithet written on their door. Please listen to his response.@CBS6 pic.twitter.com/bbvGfnTom1— Sean Robertson (@CBS6SportsSean) January 26, 2020
In the past two-plus years, the Commonwealth of Virginia has been embroiled in controversies as the state grapples with its troubling past. The incidents of the past week — those which these brave Richmond students are speaking out against, remind us of that. Thus, even though there is much work yet to do in order to begin healing, it is heartening to see so many young activists standing up against hatred in their community.
As Sherod himself put it:
“Peaceful protests are really powerful, and what they did was really strong.”