Richmond Home

1970s

The 1970s marked many bold shifts in the direction of the University of Richmond. The strict social regulations of the 1960s were loosened—alcohol was officially permitted for the first time and women could visit the lounges of men’s dorms. 

In April 1974, debates over visitation policies, students’ rights, and campus police came to a head in a massive rally of more than 400 students. The Collegian reported that “bottles, bricks, rocks, and curses” were “hurled at police officers and University officials.” The incident, sparked by the arrest of a person streaking on the Westhampton Green, merited a special two-page edition of The Collegian, sit-in workshops with more than 100 students on Boatwright lawn, and an RCSGA resolution. It did partially change the infrastructure of student life on campus by giving students more say in school policy and a representative on the student Board of Trustees, although visitation policies remained in the hands of the Board of Trustees and were not administered by students.

The Women’s Liberation Group (OWL), the Student Organization for Black Awareness (SOBA) and the Ecology Group were some of the activist groups that formed during the 1970s at the University. In the late 1970s, ‘homosexuality’ was brought to the forefront of campus discussion as anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant sang at Richmond. The Collegian published an exposé in 1978 on “Homosexuality at the University of Richmond” that included interviews of anonymous lesbian and gay students, marking the first frank discussion of lesbian and gay experiences in the student newspaper. 

The coordinate college also underwent many changes in the 1970s, as the academic departments, registrar, and admissions offices all merged into one. This helped pave a path toward the greater unification of Westhampton College and Richmond College as one school. From 1971-75, there was even a universal student government, which aimed to bring greater cooperation between the different schools, although it ultimately dissolved in 1975 because of inefficiency.

Despite these steps in the right direction, Richmond remained a highly closeted and unsafe space for LGBTQ individuals throughout the decade.

The Closet

LGBTQ life remained marginalized and invisible at the University during the 1970s. It was dangerous to be out, and ‘homosexuality’ could warrant punishment and expulsion.  

“There was no gay social scene while I was at UR,” says Bill Hall, ’75. “Basically it was always very taboo for people to talk about; there was a constant air of homophobia on campus. There were a lot of jokes being made all the time. If you knew you were gay, you had to endure it because people were just not out. 

“I remember hearing about two male students who got caught having sex and had to leave the school. People were terrified about what would happen if they came out; it might short circuit their schooling and career. Today I look at my class and there are at least 20 LGBTQ people, none of whom were out during college. I loved my time there but am so proud of the strides the University has made, it has really changed for the better.”

“There was no gay activism at Richmond,” says Judd Proctor, ’72. “You had to be very closeted to be at the University. I started to come out very late after school and it wasn’t unusual at that time to come out so late. The school was still Baptist affiliated; it was a Baptist college and they felt obligated to snuff that ‘stuff’ out.”

In March 1973, The Collegian published a forum letter that perhaps exposes how homosexuality continued to be seen as something that needed to be “stopped”. The author suggested that the strict visitation policy for women in men’s dorms “discriminates against heterosexuals. Homosexuals on this campus have seven days a week, 24 hours a day visitation with no restrictions whatsoever.” This policy “has certain sordid moral implications. Thus we must recognize now the inherent dangers in such a situation. We must act quickly to nip this rampaging spread of homosexuality in the bud. We must counteract this evil, by immediately lifting all restrictions for female visitation, thus giving heterosexuality a fighting chance. Think of your children. Think of your children’s children. Do you want your children to have children? Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.” The tongue-in-cheek tone of the article suggests the real criticism here is of the visitation policy; however, it also reveals some of the cultural fears and understandings of LGBTQ at the time—that it was an “evil” that was spreading and must be stopped.

In November 1978, The Collegian published a full-page report on “Homosexuality at University of Richmond.” The report included the subheadings, “Acceptance Comes with Maturity,” “A National Trend Becomes a Concern,” and “Not Just a Social Issue.” The feature anonymously profiled three Richmond students and an alumnus who identified as homosexual. The article highlighted how difficult the University could be for closeted students. One student stated, “The atmosphere at the University is suppressive. It’s like all the ‘straight’ people try to out-straight each other. Gays do not try to out-gay each other.” Another was quoted as saying, “Heterosexuality at the University is reinforced. People talk very openly about their heterosexual relationships. Heterosexuality is an image people have to live up to, and some people have difficulty living up to that image.” The article reported that, “During their time as Richmond students, the men found themselves objects of a certain amount of ridicule.” Two students said, “they thought of forming a gay alliance at the University, but didn’t bother.” One student claimed that his lifestyle was no different than anyone else’s and, re-emphasized this: “Homosexuals are no different in their emotional relationships. Just leave us alone.”

Max Vest, director of student activities at the University of Richmond, was quoted, “A gay group would be given the same chance as any other group” in requesting to be recognized, however “with the type of students we have, the possibility of a gay alliance-type organization is unlikely. The environment is not such on this campus that the gay members would be readily accepted by their peers.” Dr. Warren Hopkins, assistant professor of psychology, estimated that 2 percent of the University community is homosexual, and further stated that, “the student body here doesn’t have the tolerance level for these individuals to survive. I think anyone who openly expresses his ambisexuality or homosexuality on this campus would suffer from ostracism and ridicule.”

University Chaplain David Burhans stated that, “They must ask themselves if they are content being homosexual, and if not, do they want to change. That’s the big question. … I heard that that a year or two ago there were some students who talked of the possibility of organizing a group for the gay community at the University that would be recognized by the University. However…I have heard no more about it.” Director of campus police, Robert Dilliard reported that there were many University students at the Anita Bryant pro-gay counter rally. “Dilliard also said that homosexual activity does occur on campus; but it is very seldom. And it usually involved non-students … he cited only one homosexual incidence in the men’s dormitories.”

Coordinate College System

“While I was there men and women were real separate,” Proctor says. “The lake divided you, and it seemed like the buildings were divided in a gender stereotypical way. Art was on the women’s side, math and science on the men’s side. There were still panty raids going on.”   Panty raids were a tradition in which the men would swim or cross over to the women’s side of the lake and demand panties from the women, who would throw them out their dorm windows. The tradition, led mainly by fraternities, continued through the 1980s.

The coordinate college system came under debate and deliberation in the 1970s concerning its usefulness and functions. A 1969-70 Steering Committee for Student Planning studied several aspects of student life and then compiled a report for the Board of Trustees. In the report, the committee “recommended an end to the coordinate college system at Richmond.” Additionally, it cites tradition as “the main factor keeping Richmond College and Westhampton College as separate entities…when reason dictates otherwise.” The report also argued for consolidating all separate academic departments, specifically English and history, and the creation of a unified student government.

However, a 1972 Westhampton Alumna Committee recommended, “maintaining and strengthening Westhampton as a coordinate college rather than a co-educational unit in the University.” It further recommended Westhampton retain its “distinctive characteristics.” The ensuing debates in The Collegian reflect the anxiety over the direction of the coordinate system and the consistent debate and analysis it received throughout the decade. In many cases, Westhampton alumnae were the most attached to their college and fought to keep their distinctiveness. According to Charles Glassick, provost in 1974, “Westhampton is more strongly in favor of coordination than Richmond College. They consider their separateness and smallness important, but not just in the man-woman aspect. Westhampton is smaller; therefore there is more focus as far as benefits.”

There was considerable disagreement about this choice and the best path for the University. The Collegian officially sponsored creating a completely coeducational institution. In an editorial, it stated, “We, quite frankly, have yet to hear any convincing argument in favor of retaining the co-ord system. We can see no tangible benefits to be gained from educating men and women separately. We can see no benefits from being socially segregated….There is little communication, either social or academic, between the two campuses. There are not even any neutral meeting grounds, with the possible exception of fraternity houses.” The Collegian also advocated men and women living on both sides of the lake, a change that would not occur until 2002.

Social segregation was a major factor that influenced views of the coordinate system. In an April 1974 Collegian op-ed, Richard Davenport critiqued the coordinate system, while revealing how segregated social life could operate at the time. “The average student knows very few members of the opposite sex on a more than ‘exchange of greetings’ relationship. Too often the RC student and WC student regard each other as distant counterparts to be talked at or about and rarely as neighbors with common interests. The locker room bathroom-stall talk is much too common and immature to be ignored. The separation of the WC women and the RC men has created an environment where too many students are unable to develop coed relationships based on friendship, simple fun or intellectual intercourse. The date provides the only coed outlet, burdened and labeled with sexual connotations supporting a double standard.”

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees voted in 1974 to create the position of dean of the faculty of arts and sciences to unite the two colleges while retaining their distinct features and attributes. Of major concern at the time, according to the coordinate committee, was that “both men and women students at the Richmond have before them examples of competent women in all fields of behavior.” The changes of the mid-’70 s, primarily establishing this dean as well as integrating all of the academic departments, was seen as a compromise between the various arguments ranging from keeping the separate colleges to complete unification.

These academic changes would also greatly influence social life and the structure of gender at the University. The line dividing men and women began to be blurred and less defined, making a profound impact on student life. By the end of the decade, William Poarch, ’82, recalls that, “Social regulations weren’t strict for the Richmond side and the rules weren’t enforced.” He remembers that “crossing the lake at night was fine” and that he frequently “had female friends to stay over when visiting from other schools and the RAs didn’t care or would look the other way.”

Student Agitation and Protest

According to Beth Marshak ’72, “The anti-war movement was the most activist thing on campus.” It also served as a way to “meet closeted lesbians.” The Collegian at the time reveals several campus forums on the Vietnam War and passionate debates and op-eds from both sides, particularly surrounding the 1972 presidential election.

The greatest upsurge of campus activism came in April 1974, sparked by a confrontation over visitation rights. In March 1974, a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees rejected a proposal to allow students to decide their own visitation policies in conjunction with a faculty committee and the respective dorm’s dean. In response, in the last few weeks of March 1974, students began meeting and discussing visitation policies, ultimately drawing up their own individual policies. The students overwhelmingly voted to put in place the new policies, with over 90 percent of Richmond College students and 84 percent of Westhampton College students voting in favor.

Visitation policy was framed as an issue of students’ rights and became emblematic of the often paternalistic relationship between students and the administration. According to The Collegian’s editorial statement at the time, “Students at the University of Richmond are asking for one thing-the right to determine their own social regulations concerning dormitory life subject to the laws of the State of Virginia. Most people would agree that this is a right inherent in a free society. The justification that an institution of higher learning has for being could only be weakened if such a basic right should be withheld from one group of its community, namely dormitory students.” Further, The Collegian issued a statement concerning its position on the matter: “The Collegian backs the students of the University of Richmond in their efforts to determine their own social regulations. We feel the steps taken in setting up their own dormitory regulations were necessary in order to impress upon the Board of Trustees the full meaning of the rights for which they are fighting.”

In order to highlight the importance of the new visitation rights, student leaders organized a rally on the night of April 4, deliberately breaking the old visitation policy by visiting men’s and women’s dorms. According to an op-ed by Jay Lassiter, editor of The Collegian, the night was “charged with expectation” as “…it was something really different for this campus.” George Kendall, the 1973-74 Richmond College Student Government president took to the microphone at the rally to proclaim, “From this moment on we are now living under our own dormitory policies.”

Over 300 people participated in the rally; in the words of Lassiter, “It was an eerie feeling to experience, to see students united and actually caring about a common goal. You could only wonder about the amount of effort that would be necessary to enforce the old regulations when the constituency involved obviously had no desire to live under them.” Students were radically defying the administration and the Board of Trustees, taking the rules of the college in their hand.

However, it appeared the administration often did not understand the radical nature of what the students were proposing. Kendall summed up the issue in The Collegian: “This is a problem of student rights. I wouldn’t have spent all this time if it was just hours that we wanted. Leftwich wants to do something for the students—he’s missed the whole point.” The students did not just want new visitation hours; they wanted autonomy.

This radical defiance was made even the more remarkable due to the volatile and angry mood on campus. As reported by The Collegian, on the night of April 3, the night before the visitation rally, two Richmond College students were arrested. Around 40 streakers were racing nude through the quadrangles in front of North and South Court, as a “rowdy mob” of 400 onlookers surrounded them. The streaking itself was an exceptional event. Just a few months previously, in February, a Collegian op-ed had discussed streaking and joked that “Cannon Chapel would probably sink into the ground if anything like that happened around here.”

One of the streakers was arrested in a violent manner, according to The Collegian: “The officer plunged into a crowd of streakers, tackled the student to the ground, and handcuffed him behind the back.” When the arrested student was placed in a police car, the car was “quickly surrounded by a group of onlookers who let the air out of the tires, threw rocks at the windows, and rocked the car.” Sensing the volatile mood of the crowd, campus police called for assistance from Richmond city police, who appeared on campus in riot gear. This angered the students who “tried to block the roads, began throwing bricks, and vandalizing automobiles.” A second student was arrested during this time for tampering with a car.

William Leftwich, vice president of student affairs, then appeared before the crowd asking them to disperse and promising to care for the arrested students. As he came, his car was “rocked, spat upon, and pelted with rocks,” and his warnings to disperse only urged the crowd on, as they in turn “swarmed across the lake and surrounded the police station hurling curses and occasional rocks at the building.” The arrested students were then transferred to the city lock-up.

Richard Mateer, men’s dean of students, later expressed concern over the campus atmosphere: “The students are indicating the University no longer has control over the campus. I can see anarchy further down the road.”

Retroactively, seven more students were arrested on Thursday, April 11 due to their actions at the streaking incident, on charges of indecent exposure, tampering with a police vehicle, and cursing and abusing, as reported in The Collegian. The arrest of these students, after multiple meetings with student leaders concerning arrest and procedure, violated many students’ trust in the administration and angered the campus body. Several op-eds in The Collegian stated that the administration seemed out of touch with student affairs and appeared to be acting less out of concern for student interests than for the University’s image and fundraising campaign.

In the words of The Collegian, “the lack of communication with student leaders concerning the time of the arrests in the midst of a highly volatile atmosphere on campus raises serious questions concerning the ability of University student affairs administrators to perceive and evaluate the mood of the student body and act in the best interests of all concerned.” The Collegian further resolved, in a special edition of the paper, “The campus situation being what it is, communication is of the utmost importance. In this category the administration has failed miserably, allowing an eight-day investigation resulting in arrests to occur without providing means of alerting student leaders or even keeping in close contact with the issue themselves.” The Collegian also criticized the unclear process discerning which cases go to downtown police and which disciplinary actions go through established campus proceedings. The arrests, miscommunication with the administration, unchanged visitation policy, and suggestion that the administration was making decisions in light of a current fundraising campaign and not student’s interest created a tense and angry atmosphere. According to The Collegian staff editorial, “The present explosive nature of the campus cannot be overstressed and probably cannot be comprehended by anyone not living on campus.”

In response to the arrests, The Collegian reported that students organized sit-ins and workshops on Boatwright lawn, outside the offices of the president and administration. On Monday, April 15, a campus-wide forum was held in the Robins Center to vote on an appropriate form of action. Three hundred students voted to design sit-in workshops, “to air student grievances concerning the campus security force and the administration.”

The workshops helped lead to a Richmond College Student Government Association resolution concerning administrative actions. It stated:
“Be it resolved, that:
1. Dr. Leftwich, Dean Mateer, and Chief Dillard be officially censured for their detrimental actions and statements concerning the arrests.
2. President Heilman take a more active role in student affairs, instead of delegating to others virtually all of his responsibility for handling such incidents. And
3. A student-faculty-administration-staff committee be appointed to study and make recommendations concerning the alternatives to armed campus police.”

No administrator made an appearance at the sit-in; however a subcommittee was formed to report student complaints to the Board, primarily concerning visitation, and create a recommendation for an appropriate path of action. However, the relationship between the students and the administration remained tenuous, as students complained in The Collegian that “the administration feels that students are children and treats them as such.” In November 1974, the Board of Trustees rejected a proposal that would allow dorm residents to vote on their own visitation policy. Instead, it passed a motion that students would be able to choose between a dorm with no visitation and dorms with expanded visitation hours, allowing visitation to two AM on weekends, an hour later than previously. No visitation would be allowed Monday through Thursday.

Although the turmoil of the previous April did not directly result in tangible explicit policy changes, it did fundamentally challenge the relationship between the students and the administration. The old structure of a college administration serving in place of parents and regulating student behavior was altered as students asserted their rights and challenged the restrictions imposed on them.

Heteronormativity

Heterosexuality continued to be enforced in both formal and informal ways. In the early ’70s, two male students were caught together in a sexual act and expelled. Marriage was expected and encouraged; a April 25, 1974 Collegian article posits that “When you come right down to it, there are only two kinds of seniors – those who are married or are getting married soon, and those who aren’t.” It further quotes Susan Lindler ’74, who planned to remain unmarried for a year or two after college admitting that “around Christmas this year there was a feeling of pressure about marriage because so many people were getting diamonds and having showers around that time.”

The assumption of heterosexuality was evident in social policies and punishments. In the ’70s a disciplinary measure called “Social Campus” continued to be in effect. According to the WC handbook, Social Campus sanctioned Westhampton students by prohibiting them from “1. Dating or being seen in the presence of boys or riding in cars with boys. 2. Use of the telephone for local social calls. 3, Patronizing the college shop or tearoom. 4. Going off campus, except to attend church. 5. Attendance at university functions.” A Feb. 7, 1974 editorial and cartoon complained of the repressive nature of these rules. Underneath a banner stating: “Victorianism is Alive and Kicking at W.C.,” a WC student argued that, “To say this rule is ridiculous would be an understatement.” A student in question who was under Social Campus was seen talking to a male and thus her penalty was extended a week. According to The Collegian, this “fitting punishment that makes one recall with nostalgia such well-disciplined times as the Spanish Inquisition. It is hard to believe that such penalties as being confined to campus or being restricted from talking to members of the opposite sex would be in effect on a university campus in 1974.”  The codes and regulations surrounding interaction between men and women suggest that sexuality was considered a dangerous thing, needing to be controlled by school policy. These regulations were disproportionately enforced for WC students, revealing a gender-based code of expected behavior.

Several school rituals during the ’70s continued to be structured on the assumption of heterosexuality: homecoming king and queen, with a man and woman coupling, fraternities selection of “little sisters,’’ and Greek Week.

Anita Bryant at UR

In October 1977, singer and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant appeared at the Robins Center at the request of the three Richmond-area Baptist Associations. The event served as a catalyst for the city of Richmond’s first organized gay rights rally. The rally, held in Monroe Park on VCU’s campus, was organized to deflect attention from Bryant and send a positive message about LGBTQ individuals. Marshak, one of the organizers of the event, recalls, “from our perspective it was a way to make use of her visit; in certain ways, Anita Bryant is personally responsible for re-energizing the lesbian and gay movement.”

Several University students attended the rally downtown; the event clearly left an impression on campus, as a year later, in a profile of homosexuality at Richmond, it was mentioned.

The incident garnered debate in The Collegian; Francis Kinsey ’78 wrote an op-ed stating, “it appalls and disgusts me to learn that the campus of the University of Richmond will soon be disgraced by the appearance of Anita Bryant. This woman has lead a persecution campaign in Florida aimed at homosexuals….to a nation that has made great strides to legally end discrimination against minorities, the success of Anita Bryant’s campaign is a step backward.” However, an editorial on the same page by The Collegian staff called “Anita Bryant’s crusade against gay extremism in Miami” a “good thing, in that it led the voters to stand up for traditional moral values and norms of conduct, and to reject the militant gays’ demands to approve their lifestyle.” It further stated that homosexuality was acceptable if it remained a “private matter” but that if “a homosexual teacher flaunts his lifestyle in the classroom in an attempt to induce students to emulate his abnormal behavior, then the school has the right to dismiss him, and rightfully so.” A few months later, Bryant personally wrote an op-ed in the December edition of The Collegian, responding to criticism and suggesting that Kinsey attend a more “liberal, humanistic” college if he doesn’t understand that “the University of Richmond is a Christian college, teaching that homosexuality is a sin.”

The "Alley Incident"

In December 1977, Robert S. Alley, an ordained Baptist minister and chairman of the Department of Religion came under fire for stating, “Jesus never claimed that he was God.” He came under a storm of criticism and letters to the editor, in both The Collegian and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He was removed from his position and transferred to the Area Studies department. University President E. Bruce Heilman apologized publicly for the “bad judgment” of Alley. Despite student protests on the lawn of the president’s home, with more than 350 individuals present, and a faculty resolution affirming Alley’s right to academic freedom, Alley’s shift to Area Studies remained. The incident did provoke heated debate over academic freedom and free speech; it also revealed some of the tensions between a more conservative, Baptist Board of Trustees and administration, and the faculty and students, as well as the considerable power the Baptist General Association of Virginia continued to have over the University in the late ’70s. Although Alley ‘chose’ the transfer, it was suggested that he was under considerable pressure to do so. In an interview, Alley stated, “When it came right down to it, I think the church used money to bludgeon the school. I think that’s unfortunate, but I believe it.”

Other students expressed dissatisfaction of the importance placed on money, religion, and power rather than academic engagement and enrichment. Tom Stenzel ’77 wrote in The Collegian: “The University has found itself still in the financially manipulative clutches of its Baptist alumni.” Further, “…anyone who buys the University’s line concerning its commitment to academic freedom has been played the fool. Tenure, it has been shown, is a tenuous thing indeed. Freedom is a concept, not a reality.” Although Alley went on to have a long career with the University, and a room in Weinstein Hall currently bears his name, the controversy over his remarks reflects the tensions of the time, between the alumni, administration, faculty, and students.