editor's note

Illustration by Gordon Schmidt

The pandemic provided the backdrop for the development of this issue of the magazine, just like it has for so much of all of our lives in recent months. In May, when we began working on it in earnest, only a handful of students remained on campus, and every employee who could work remotely did. Many who couldn’t work remotely also stayed home (thankfully still drawing their university paychecks until they could safely return).

As I write today, autumn classes are underway, and almost all residential students and many faculty and staff are back on campus — all part of a hopeful yet fragile compact of shared vigilance, conscious spacing, and ubiquitous mask-wearing. For a measure of the uncertainty the pandemic has induced, I need look no further than the internal FAQ the university updates weekly for faculty and staff. The most recent edition ran 38 pages.

But this document is also a sign of determination, a real-time, growing catalog of this community’s responses to ongoing, unanticipated challenges. It exists because we are doing the work of adapting how we deliver on the promise of a Richmond education in order to honor the promise itself.

The voices in this issue of the magazine convey some of the power of that education, for this issue has unfolded against another backdrop, too. Our initial work on it coincided with the outbreak of protests worldwide after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As this issue goes to press, we are in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Between those events, Noah Walker, a 2019 graduate who majored in the sciences and leadership studies at UR, became one of the many people offering his voice publicly to the conversation about what President Crutcher calls “America’s enduring pandemic of racism and injustice.” Noah’s essay is here. When we exchanged emails about reprinting it, he told me that he hopes readers will come away from it understanding two things: that racial injustice “is a real issue that can hurt people they know” and that “all Black lives matter, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done in the past.”

What most struck me about his essay — what made it stand out among the many, many calls that this time, with this death, things must finally change — is his take on a photo of himself from graduation. Just about every Spider has a photo of themselves like his photo. Many of theirs probably look very similar — a smart outfit, a beaming smile, a diploma proudly displayed. But what Noah sees in this photo of himself powerfully reveals the urgency of his voice.