The University of Richmond (UR) launched its student newspaper, the Collegian, more than a century ago in 1914. When I became the paper’s editor-in-chief in November 2021, I wondered what my mostly White male predecessors would have made of someone like me taking the helm. As a first-generation college student, an immigrant, and a Latinx woman, I broke the long-established mold.
As I planned my approach to the job, I tried to make sense of the newspaper’s legacy by browsing through the paper’s archives and old yearbooks. I knew the Collegian had contributed to racism on campus in the past and that, as a result, many students of color distrusted the newspaper. For instance, between 1988 and 1991, the newspaper published a series of racist, sexist, and homophobic op-eds on topics such as admissions requirements and poverty in the Black community.
The newspaper’s work to address racism at UR began before my tenure as editor-in-chief. In fall 2020, the Collegian published a letter from the editors reaffirming the paper’s commitment to reporting episodes of hate and bias on campus. The editorial staff also created a recurring segment on the webpage that focuses on the experiences of people of color at the university. Despite these efforts, I still spent much of my career as a student journalist covering racist incidents on campus.
During the second semester of my freshman year, someone wrote racist slurs on the dorm room doors of Black and Middle Eastern students. As a reporter for the Collegian, I broke the story. Covering the events that followed helped me understand what it’s like to be a journalist. I could report on student protests, but I could not speak out and express my own views.
Another troubling episode occurred when I was editor-in-chief. A video surfaced of fraternity members singing “Dixie,” the Confederacy’s unofficial anthem, and chanting, “The South will rise again” and “I want to be a slave owner.” After consulting with faculty advisors and the editorial staff, I decided to both post the video on our website and name the students in it. The community responded positively to our coverage in this instance, but the newspaper has often faced criticism after reporting on racist events. After we published a piece about a student using racist slurs against a delivery driver and the resulting physical fight, our anonymous tip sheet received messages saying that this was “fake news” and that the university should expel certain reporters.
As a person of color, I have often felt isolated at the university, and reporting on racist incidents many students didn’t want to hear about only intensified that feeling. Helping the newspaper move closer to its goals of covering the experiences of all students and diversifying the editorial staff has made me feel that I have contributed something important to the community. Working on the student newspaper has given me a sense of belonging. The paper has been my home on campus.
Photograph: Jackie Llanos (seated, center) meets for the last time as editor-in-chief with the staff of the Collegian, the University of Richmond’s student newspaper, in December 2022. (Courtesy of author)