“I struggle to understand the immediacy of action and lack of concern for those students,” writes VCU student Kaylin Cecchini after VCU emptied their Honors College dorms of student belongings without advance notice.
As my graduation rapidly approaches I find myself reflecting on my four years at VCU, and I always come back to the same conclusion about my experience: it has been the Richmond community that has looked after me, shaped me, and given me every opportunity I have needed to succeed — not VCU.
At each and every opportunity, the university has routinely prioritized its bottom line and potential gains over the wellbeing of its students, staff, and the larger community it calls home. During my time as a student I have had to launch several protests against the administration, often over issues not even relevant to my own personal needs. I protested when they cancelled a commencement ceremony in 2019. I implored them to find a way to make ends meet for students, even if it meant Dr. Rao “donated” some of his unconscionably large salary ($900,940) to do so. I protested when they blocked students from canvassing within their own dorms before pivotal elections. In response, they confidently told us there was a wholesale ban on door-knocking within student housing. Knowing full well there is precedent case law for a suit against them in regards to this ban, they place their bets that their assumed power will ward off any attempts to hold them accountable.
The administration did not ignore me; rather, they attempted to quell my complaints with empty promises. I did not initially realize this, though, because they engaged me in conversation, offered me an imaginary seat at the table, apologized, and provided their signature promise that they would do better in the future. The administration would rather ask for forgiveness than permission, knowing the most they will have to do is placate the loudest students of the bunch.
Today, we are experiencing a global crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need strong leadership and thoughtful action from VCU more than ever before. Their latest trespass has been their sudden action to repurpose the Honors College for emergency services without ever informing the students who live there. Although the health and safety of the broader community should take priority over student housing, I struggle to understand the immediacy of action and lack of concern for those students who have been put out on the street to convert their dorms to emergency medical facilities.
The university undoubtedly had time to create a comprehensive plan and do what is in the best interest of all members of the community, including their own students, who rely upon them for housing. VCU suspended classes on March 11th, declared the effective end of the semester on the 18th, and began this action on the 25th. Why did students have to see their private property being removed in a viral Facebook video first? They had at least a week to begin to alert students and provide alternate accommodations. VCU instead did nothing.
Once again I have received an email from the administration with a promise to do better, as well as some carefully chosen verbiage about their profound responsibility to deal with the crisis first. I am not satisfied with this response. Once again, I am left without recourse or adequate leadership.
Their litany of transgressions is unforgivable: the way VCU finances projects to displace the homeless, pays starvation wages to adjunct professors and keeps them at 29.5 hours per week to avoid having to provide health insurance, gobbles up real estate without regard for the city and those communities that have and should continue to exist independently of VCU, and how the university nickel-and-dimes their students.
I wish I could leave this institution with the utmost respect for its leaders. I wish I could recommend studying here without reservation. Unfortunately, in good conscience, I simply cannot. I will no longer plead with the administration for good communication, effective policy, and compassionate leadership. I can only hope that each student, much like myself, finds solace in the caring and vibrant community just out of reach of VCU’s grasp.
Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect RVA Magazine editorial policy.
Top Photo via Laura Perrot/Twitter