STAT President will not apologize for “We Built This City” shirt

By Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

At Tuesday’s Student Government Association committee meeting, SGA delegate William Carino asked for an apology from those responsible for a T-shirt which has sparked intense debate in the VCU and Richmond community since the start of the semester.

Speaking to delegates of the External Affairs committee, the SGA Executive Board and Judiciary members, Carino implored the board’s political affairs aide and Students Today Alumni Tomorrow president Brendan Hood to issue an apology and recall the contentious T-shirts STAT distributed earlier this year.

The T-shirts bear the phrase, “We Built This City,” asserting a sense of pride in what STAT members believe VCU and its large network of students, faculty, staff, graduates, alumni, donors and general supporters have done to revitalize and develop Richmond. Hood said the phrase is also meant to be a play on the 80’s pop song, “We Built This City” by Starship.

Critics however, cite the city’s bleak history – its slave-holding, slave-trading and separatist heritage – as the true foundation of the former capital of the Confederacy, not VCU or STAT.

“This hurts VCU’s image and hurts the already fragile relationship with Richmond and its residents,” Carino told the delegation, asking them to take the request, “seriously,” and to consider taking action if Hood and STAT would not.

Hood said he and STAT would not apologize for the t-shirts, which he said were, “made with no malicious intent,” and refused to issue a recall of them.

“We cannot apologize for something that was not meant or intended to offend anyone,” Hood said in committee. “Last year, we were in a time at STAT where we were working with many local businesses. We realized that many of them were helping the community and we were proud of the fact that we could help them grow. That’s where the idea came from.”

Carino, a Richmond resident of eight years, said he was personally upset with the shirt. Carino said the shirt’s message portrays VCU students in a negative light and perpetuates, “a stereotype” of students who feel entitled and are ignorant of Richmond’s local history and full-time, year-round residents.

“The message isn’t meant to be taken literally, but many people are reading that way,” Carino said addressing the committee delegation. “Even taken figuratively, the message at best is naive, insensitive, misleading, and at its worst, elitist and offensive.”

The T-shirt text drew great amounts of criticism within a month of being circulated around VCU’s sprawling urban campus. University members and city residents debated the issue nearly everywhere in Richmond.

The debate caught the attention of local media outlets following weeks of spirited discussion and argument regarding the T-shirt’s statement. In September, The Commonwealth Times published an opinion by staff columnist August Wade on the subject. In the following days, Wade was asked to pen another opinion for Style Weekly. Criticism and inflammatory comments directed towards Wade and both articles then prompted a response from him in a follow-up column for the CT.

SGA President Brandon Day arrived to the meeting shortly before Carino addressed the committee. After Carino suggested the 30-member SGA Senate draw a resolution requiring STAT to recall the shirts, both Day and External Affairs Committee chair Aly Metz said the matter would need to be discussed in judiciary to infer if the legislative body holds such authority. Day and Metz are both on the STAT Board of Directors. Associate Justice Suraj Telhan is also on the STAT Leadership Council.

Chief Justice Vincent Ryan was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Following its adjournment, Ryan made himself unavailable for comment.

Carino said, “this is just step one in the process,” expressing disappointment and intent to pursue other avenues to resolve the issue if the SGA proves to be ineffective.

“There’s a lot of people looking for a resolution to this,” Carino said. “They’re looking for some form of an apology and recognition from VCU that they are there. If they don’t get that, this will continue to hurt VCU and Richmond relations.”

12 Comments

  1. Mr Carino,

    As a proud VCU alumnus I take pride in giving back to my community (Richmond). I am an active alumni member for the Richmond chapter, have volunteered to supervise VCU interns, and actively support the university. It is undeniable that there is a direct correlation between the growth of VCU, their alumni and student networks and the current rate of growth in Richmond. A group of volunteer, 18-21 college students got together and developed a t-shirt proclaiming their pride for their university which has nothing to do with "the city’s bleak history – its slave-holding, slave-trading and separatist heritage – as the true foundation of the former capital of the Confederacy" and has everything to do with the current growth of VCU and Richmond. We have plenty of overt reminders about Richmond's past (multiple confederate museums, flags on Boulevard, streets and holidays for generals)…let’s not create more with haphazard articles proclaiming a quote from a song is "at best naive, insensitive, misleading, and at its worst, elitist and offensive" and focus on real tangible inequality.

  2. The main aspect that I spoke about was not the racial implications- which seems to be everyone's sticking point when it comes to discussions of this issue. The racial implications only come into play if you take the message literally.

    I was speaking from a figurative standpoint, which my argument is that VCU has erased a lot of what Richmond used to be at the dismay of many long-time Richmond residents. Those students who are in college right now likely have no idea what VCU and Richmond looked like 10 years ago, and they'd probably be shocked what it looked like 25 years ago. This campus has exploded in size, and it took with it the distinctive cultures that existed on Grace Street, Oregon Hill, Carver, the eastern Fan, and Jackson Ward. We can argue whether this was a good change or a bad change another time- but the facts still remain that VCU is growing from within an existing and established city.

    I argued last night that the shirts proclaim an arrogant message that ignores all of the other aspects that Richmond has to offer that have nothing to do with VCU. Most VCU students never venture far from campus when they are here and have no idea all of the different regions that make up "this city". The diverse, old, and interwoven communities of Richmond built their parts of this city. The state capital built its part of this city. The financial district, the city parks and river, and retail and dining areas of Shockoe Bottom and Carytown built their parts of this city.

    VCU built it's part, sure. But it's extremely arrogant and naive to think that VCU is Richmond. VCU is not Richmond, and Richmond is not VCU.

  3. This makes me embarrassed to be a VCU alum. "We didn't mean to be offensive cause, ya know, we don't have to think about the implications of this shirt because we have the privilege not to worry about it," is not an excuse to totally ignore the fact that we didn't build this city. We gentrified this city. We invaded this city. We bought this city. But we haven't built this city; all VCU has done is build on itself and take space away from the residents. How about, instead of building the ICA, which we DON'T NEED, VCU takes that money and actually puts it into building this city we all live in.

  4. Yo, Jeff. As a Richmond native and VCU student who has lived and spent time outside of the VCU/MCV campus I can tell you that your outsider white ass has literally no authority to comment on this. The city is gentrified to hell and back and literally every single pocket of deep poverty (35%! APPALACHIA doesn't have that kind of poverty) is in African-American neighborhoods. The residents are EXTREMELY sensitive to racial issues (look up the history of '95 and Jackson Ward you ignoramus). VCU is so reviled outside of the little bubble the students have hilariously convinced themselves is the entire city that joking about "burning it down" will generate a laugh at community organizing meetings.

    If you want to "focus on real tangible inequality" you need to listen to the people who are really, tangibly treated unequally and they need to trust you to work with you. Which ain't gonna happen if you just ignore them when they tell you you're doing something wrong; to do anything else is just barfing white savior all over the place. Sit in your goddamned corner, shut your mouth, and listen when other, more relevant and informed people talk.

    PS: Sorry if you find this offensive; it wasn't intended to be.

  5. Yo, Jeff. As a Richmond native and VCU student who has lived and spent time outside of the VCU/MCV campus I can tell you that your outsider white ass has literally no authority to comment on this. The city is gentrified to hell and back and literally every single pocket of deep poverty (35%! APPALACHIA doesn't have that kind of poverty) is in African-American neighborhoods. The residents are EXTREMELY sensitive to racial issues (look up the history of '95 and Jackson Ward you ignoramus). VCU is so reviled outside of the little bubble the students have hilariously convinced themselves is the entire city that joking about "burning it down" will generate a laugh at community organizing meetings.

    If you want to "focus on real tangible inequality" you need to listen to the people who are really, tangibly treated unequally and they need to trust you to work with you. Which ain't gonna happen if you just ignore them when they tell you you're doing something wrong; to do anything else is just barfing white savior all over the place. Sit in your goddamned corner, shut your mouth, and listen when other, more relevant and informed people talk.

    PS: If you find this offensive; it wasn't intended to be.

  6. "I wont apologize for this t-shirt's message, but I apologize for misnaming the band we snagged it from and used the most canned response possible" … *slow clap* a school full of PR majors and no one can figure out how to snuff this out. I'm impressed.

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