By Chris Suarez
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.”