University of Richmond Update

December 2020

Dear Members of the University Community,

Each Thanksgiving, I like to pause and reflect on the many blessings of being a part of this special community. This holiday season, I find myself with even more reasons to be thankful and proud to call myself a Spider. As we successfully progress toward the completion of a semester unlike any we have seen before, I am so pleased — but not surprised — that the Spider Community has risen to the occasion and demonstrated a remarkable ability to innovate and adapt in a world of new realities. I would like to share with you the words of a student, who captures better than I can, our community’s remarkable feat of making this fall semester possible.

Amid the concerns and anxiety of the moment, this student said that the University had created “an oasis of calm and safety where I feel safe to learn.” Of her professors, she said that they had gone above and beyond to check in on students and create an environment in which, at least for a few hours, she could forget the chaos of our wider world and instead focus on learning and pursuing her dreams. Of the staff, she said words cannot describe how wonderful it feels to walk into a building and feel safeguarded from the virus — something she thought would have been impossible. And of her fellow students, she said that when it comes to wearing their masks and social distancing, they are “crushing it.”

Our community is indeed “crushing it,” to borrow our student’s parlance. While we must continue to work tirelessly both individually and collectively to protect community health, especially as COVID-19 surges nationwide, we should be proud of our efforts to forge a stronger community in response to shared adversity. I am so grateful to our faculty and staff who have worked extra hours to ensure the continuity of the semester and to foster community in this time of disconnect and “Zoom fatigue.” I am so grateful to our students who have embraced our shared responsibility to take care of ourselves and one another — and turned adversity into an opportunity for deep life learning inside and outside the classroom. And I am so grateful to our alumni who have supported the University in countless ways, from remarkably generous support during our annual Spiders Helping Spiders fundraising campaign to participating in Spider Chats with hundreds of prospective students.

When I hear about what Spiders have done — and continue to do — to support the University under such trying and stressful circumstances, I am so moved. The scope and scale of our community’s efforts have been truly remarkable. This holiday season, I give thanks that the Spider community has so selflessly stepped forward to protect and strengthen our web. Your collective commitment to our educational mission is a constant source of strength and inspiration for me — and the reason why I remain optimistic about the future despite the very real challenges of this time.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

Richmond faculty and students continue to distinguish themselves and bring recognition to the University as a place where academic excellence thrives. Here are some recent examples:

  • Two of our students were honored this fall as Rhodes finalists. We are so proud of Alec Greven and Kexin Li, who are both seniors, for this tremendous recognition of their academic success and commitment.
  • Associate Professor of Biology Kristine Grayson received a National Science Foundation grant to apply her research on eastern red-backed salamanders to furthering educational strategies in STEM disciplines. Other accomplishments among our biology faculty include Professor Linda Boland, who has received a three-year NSF award that will allow her to further her study of the electrical activity of nerve cells and Professor Omar Quintero, who has been selected by the Advisory Board of the Porter Endowment for Cell Biology as the Keith R. Porter Fellow for 2020.
  • Professor of Statistics Paul Kvam received a Fulbright Scholar Award for travel to Hong Kong to further his research in nonparametric statistics.
  • Professor of English Elizabeth Outka received the 2020 Book Award (monograph category) from the South Atlantic Modern Language Association for her book Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature.
  • Professor of Anthropology Miguel Díaz-Barriga and Associate Professor of Anthropology Margaret E. Dorsey received first place for their book Fencing in Democracy: Border Walls, Necrocitizenship, and the Security State in the 2020 Association of Latina/Latino Anthropologists Book Award.
  • Faculty members recently published two books on leadership. Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics Professor Terry Price published Leadership and the Ethics of Influence and Associate Professor of Psychology Laura Knouse and Leadership Studies Professor Emerita Gill Robinson Hickman co-authored When Leaders Face Personal Crisis.

These are just a few examples of the ways that excellence flourishes across disciplines at the University. Despite the extraordinary challenges of the current times, faculty and students continue to distinguish themselves and the University and fortify Richmond’s international reputation as an exemplar of the very best of liberal education.

VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY

Throughout the contentious and deeply divided political season that we have experienced, I have been encouraged by the ways that our campus reflects our shared values of inclusivity, civility, and respectful engagement with important issues of the day. As an academic community, we prize discourse, debate, inquiry, critique, candor, and reason because we recognize that our nation and world face complex problems that do not present easy solutions. They require that we model the kind of substantive and civil disagreement that creates new knowledge and new pathways to understanding around shared approaches to problems that affect us all. I am grateful to be part of a community that embraces this commitment.

Engaging in dialogue across differences to foster change has been the theme of this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Series. Earlier this semester, I hosted a conversation about the fraying of bipartisanship with Denis McDonough and Mike Sommers, who were chiefs of staff to President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner, respectively. Just after the election, I hosted a lively conversation with Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, and Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic political analyst, during which we discussed the outcome and implications of the 2020 election. Both conversations were aimed at examining ways to rebuild civility and a sense of common purpose. On March 26, I will host another such conversation with philosopher and political activist Cornell West and legal scholar Robert P. George, two friends with very different worldviews who will discuss the importance of fostering dialogue and cultivating friendships across ideological and political divides. The event will be available via livestream, and I hope you will make time to join us.

MAKING EXCELLENCE INCLUSIVE

I am so proud that students are taking on leadership roles in our institutional efforts to ensure an inclusive intercultural community in which everyone feels a sense of belonging and can take full advantage of every opportunity a Richmond education provides. I’d like to offer two examples. Earlier this semester, the newly formed President’s Student Cabinet began meeting with me and other senior leaders. Its 15 student members represent all five schools and a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. Also this fall, students Hijab Fatima, ’21, and Tommy Na, ’22, with the help of Associate Professor of Political Science Monti Datta, organized the University’s first Equity Summit, which brought together more than 450 students, faculty, staff, and alumni to discuss topics related to inclusivity. Hijab later described the importance of what she called the summit’s “much-needed but difficult conversations,” and I both congratulate and thank the many students who led sessions and furthered conversations about our efforts to make excellence truly inclusive at the University.

SPIDER SUPPORT

I am also grateful to the alumni, families, and other Spiders around the world who played an important role in supporting our students and our broader Spider network this fall. Alumni and parents stepped in to help in so many ways: volunteering and participating in weekly alumni programming, which showcased this community’s incredible talents; hiring fellow Spiders and providing career mentorship and connections to both students and fellow alumni in an uncertain job market; and of course, making gifts to areas of greatest need on campus. We recently concluded our third annual Spiders Helping Spiders campaign, which raised more than $400,000 from gifts of all sizes for financial aid and urgent student needs. Whether you directed your gift to financial aid, the Student Emergency Fund, or the Career Opportunity Fund, I hope you feel immense pride in knowing your support provides vital aid in a year that has been especially difficult for some in our Spider family. Your generosity is a powerful sign of the strong bond that unites our Spider community.

The Office of Alumni and Career Services continues to offer many valuable ways for alumni to assist students as they seek internships, mentoring, interviews, and other professional opportunities during this difficult time. The Spider network has served students and alumni well for many decades. If you are currently involved in alumni or career services programs, I want to thank you on behalf of the University and our students for the role you play in sustaining this network, and I encourage all alumni to consider becoming involved however they can.

ATHLETICS

I hope you joined me in cheering on our Spiders as the men’s and women’s basketball teams got their seasons underway last week. The men’s basketball team won both of its games last week, including a historic win against the Kentucky Wildcats, the program’s first-ever road win against an AP Top-10 team. The victory vaulted the Spiders to No. 19 in the AP Top-25 this week, our highest national ranking since 1957.

Richmond student-athletes across sports have displayed remarkable resiliency as the pandemic has upended seasons and continues to cause uncertainty. As I write, Athletics continues to work very hard to make spring seasons a reality for as many sports as possible as we continue to uphold the health and safety of our student-athletes and the entire campus community.

A LOOK AHEAD

Thus far, this academic year has been unlike any in my many decades in higher education. I am proud that students, faculty, and staff responded to the fall semester’s safety protocols with determination and extraordinary compassion for one another, and I am grateful to everyone across campus already working diligently to prepare for the spring semester. I believe that when I look back on this time in years to come, I will remember it primarily as a period when we drew on our community’s extraordinary strength, resilience, and values to live more fully into our mission. Despite the challenges, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and other supporters have come together in a profound way to provide students with the excellent education, support, and community that distinguish the University of Richmond.

The work of this semester is not over — please spare a kind thought for students completing final exams next week — but it is not too early to offer my sincerest thanks and congratulations on a successful semester. We will face many challenges together in the spring, but we have certainly earned the rest that will finally come at the end of the semester. I wish every Spider a joyous, safe, and rejuvenating holiday season.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher
President