University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher released a statement Thursday calling a racist photo from the school’s 1980 yearbook “repulsive” and “antithetical to the values of the University today.”
The photo depicts five people dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes surrounding a smiling African-American man holding a drink and pretending to be hanged by a noose.
The African-American man is Michael Kizzie, who played basketball at Henrico High School and for the Richmond Spiders. In a phone interview Thursday night, he said he was unaware of the photo until he was contacted by a reporter for The Collegian, UR’s student newspaper.
“I’m just getting over the shock and embarrassment of it right now, and that’s going to take a while,” said Kizzie, who now lives in suburban Washington.
The university’s statement says that the administration became aware that the photo had been shared on social media Wednesday night.
“Such images reflect a past that must be reconciled and understood,” Crutcher’s statement said. “We do not intend to forget or erase those moments. Rather, we must examine and understand our history so that we may become the more inclusive community we aspire to be.”
It added that the university has a commission looking into how it can communicate its history in a more inclusive way and that there will be a report on how the university can become an “exemplary intercultural community.”
Kizzie says he doesn’t remember anything about the photo.
“The best that I can say about myself — other than being an idiot for doing it — is this is not a picture of life at the University of Richmond,” he said. “I never felt pressured, I never felt intimidated. I can’t remember a racial incident that made me feel bad. This is not reflective of my tenure there. This is me being stupid.”
“This was a party where young men were being stupid, not realizing the impact of something like this at this time,” he said.
The University of Richmond’s statement came as several yearbooks from Virginia institutions have come to light for racist content following the public discovery of a racist image on Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page last Friday.
Here’s Crutcher’s full statement:
Last night we became aware that a racist yearbook image had been shared on social media. The image that was shared from the yearbook is repulsive to us. Images of this sort, and the behavior and attitudes they represent, are appalling and antithetical to the values of the University today. No one should have to experience the pain caused by such vile images, or evidence of such behavior, either at the time the incident occurs or thereafter.
Such images reflect a past that must be reconciled and understood. We do not intend to forget or erase those moments. Rather, we must examine and understand our history so that we may become the more inclusive community we aspire to be.
We know that we have work to do in our community in this respect, and I am grateful to the many faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are dedicated to fulfilling this responsibility. Our ongoing work includes teaching, scholarship, research, and oral histories that confront historical issues of racism and discrimination directly and honestly. This need is also the reason that fostering a thriving and inclusive community is central in the strategic plan, why the Commission on University History and Identity is exploring how our history has been recorded and will help us communicate that history more inclusively, and why the President’s Advisory Committee on Making Excellence Inclusive will soon issue their report on what we can do to make the University an exemplary intercultural community.
We have no intention of varnishing our history. We are committed to understanding the dark and troubling moments of our past and learning from them. As an institution of higher education, our students — past, present, and future — deserve no less.
Ronald A. Crutcher