Robins School of Business: De-centering Whiteness
A portrait of E. Claiborne Robins. (Source: URHistory)
A 1987 article from The New York Times about the legacy of the A.H. Robins Company's Dalkon Shield. (Source: The New York Times)
The Robins School of Business exemplifies the centering of whiteness on campus. It is home to over 100 plaques, each one primarily commemorating a white male.
This photo is from the 1980 yearbook and features Dr. Ray Slaughter, the first black professor in the business school, in the bottom right with the accounting department faculty members. (Source: Race & Racism Project)
This 1979 Collegian article lists Dr. Ray Slaughter as a recipient of the Distinguished Educators Award. (Source: The Collegian)
Backstory and Context
The Robins School of Business, named after pharmaceutical giant, E. Claiborne Robins, is the home to almost one-third of the student body and is recognized as one of the nation's best business schools by several rankings, including Forbes, TIME, and U.S. News & World Report.
The commemoration of the building’s name obscures significant history. In 1975, tens of thousands of women filed claims that they were harmed by the A. H. Robins Company’s Dalkon Shield, an intrauterine birth control device that had helped fund Robins’ wealth, and consequently, the donations made to the university. At least 20 women died, and hundreds of thousands were injured.1 Despite knowing the risk this product caused to women, Robins continued to sell the product in developing countries where the controversy hadn’t spread. Robins continued to donate to UR despite the lawsuits, which has driven inquiry into whether his donations were influenced by philanthropic intentions or guilt.
While Robins’ often untold story is important to remember, it is also critical to acknowledge the inside of the building is home to over 100 plaques celebrating white individuals. Furthermore, although white women’s names can be found on a few plaques, they are almost always accompanied by a white husband or father. Not one of these plaques commemorates people of color who played a critical role in the Robins School of Business. One of these important people is Dr. Ray Slaughter.
In 1979, Dr. Ray Slaughter became the Robins School of Business’ first black professor. After only one year of teaching, he was a recipient of the University of Richmond’s Distinguished Educator Award, which recognizes full-time faculty for a consistent record of outstanding contributions to excellence in education.2 He made a powerful connection with the students of the University and received tenure in 1986, making him the first black professor to be tenured in the Business School.
Dr. Slaughter was also an influential advocate for the community throughout his 39 years at the University of Richmond. In 2011, Professor Slaughter motivated his accounting students to partner with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program downtown, providing low-income residents in Richmond with help on their taxes. Dr. Slaughter wanted a way for his students to use their skills in a practical setting while simultaneously supporting those in need. He said, “I hope this will help my students not only to prepare for their public accounting careers with the opportunity to apply their skills in a practical setting, but also to find enrichment in giving back to the community. I want them to feel joy and fulfillment from helping people with what they’ve learned in the classroom.”3 The program, which hosts many tax sites throughout the Greater Richmond and Petersburg region, ensures everyone will be able to find a time and a place that they can receive free tax assistance. Students will continue participating beyond Dr. Slaughter’s retirement in 2018.4
Dr. Slaughter’s story and legacy is a reminder that the Robins School of Business is yet another site with many untold histories.
[To learn more about the stories of black students in the Robins School of Business in the late 1970s and early 1980s, listen to the UR Race & Racism Project oral history interviews linked below].
2 "Distinguished Educator Awards." The University of Richmond. https://provost.richmond.edu/faculty-development/recognition/dea.html.
3 "Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program." The University of Richmond. May 1, 2014, https://news.richmond.edu/features/article/-/11982/volunteer-income-tax-assistance-program-professor-brings-his-taxation-students-skills-into-the-greater-richmond-community.html?sma=sm.00000507z9s5vqdu2siygwqkchcos.
4 "Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program." The University of Richmond. May 1, 2014, https://news.richmond.edu/features/article/-/11982/volunteer-income-tax-assistance-program-professor-brings-his-taxation-students-skills-into-the-greater-richmond-community.html?sma=sm.00000507z9s5vqdu2siygwqkchcos.