At the Nov. 11 SGA committee meeting, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) president Brendan Hood refused to apologize for the organization’s controversial “We Built This City” T-shirt, which has ignited intense debate throughout Richmond in recent months.
At the meeting, SGA delegate William Carino demanded that Hood and the SGA’s political affairs aide issue an apology and recall the contentious T-shirts that STAT distributed earlier this year.
Hood said the T-shirt’s slogan is a play off the 1980s pop song “We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship, as well as recognition of VCU and its large network of affiliates for revitalizing and developing Richmond.
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.
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.
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.”
Within a month of when the T-shirts began circulating VCU’s sprawling urban campus, university members and city residents were taking sides on the now-polarizing issue.
“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.”
Soon, local media outlets caught wind of the controversy after weeks of spirited discussion and argument regarding the T-shirt’s statement. Style Weekly published an editorial by VCU student August Wade, which was originally published in the CT; soon, other news organizations caught wind of the issue, including RVAmag and NBC-12.
SGA President Brandon Day arrived to last Tuesday’s meeting shortly before Carino addressed the committee. Day and the SGA external affairs committee chair Aly Metz said the judiciary would need to deliberate if the legislative body holds the authority to meet Carino’s demand.
Day and Metz are both on the STAT board of directors. Suraj Telhan, a member of the SGA judiciary is also on the STAT leadership council.
VCU Dean of Student Affairs and SGA Faculty Advisor Reuben Rodriguez said the SGA is fully accountable for the issue and making a decision they deem appropriate.
“I think it speaks to their due diligence,” he said. “They’ll want to adhere to their constitutional bylaws. It’s their duty to look if it they can … how they work with it is at their discretion.”
Rodriguez also suggested that if any students wish to have their voices heard in the matter, that they can attend regular SGA Senate and committee meetings.
“The SGA is a very open organization,” he said. “They want students to put forward their ideas and issues to be able to discuss them fully.”
Vincent Ryan, the SGA’s chief justice of the judiciary, was also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Ryan made himself unavailable for comment immediately after the meeting adjourned.
Carino expressed 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.”
SGA Senate meetings are regularly held on Mondays at 4 p.m. in the Student Commons Forum Room. Times and locations for other legislative committees can be found on the Monroe Park SGA website at www.vcusga.org