This past week was my first full week interning at Common Ground at the University of Richmond. The main project that I will be working on this summer is creating a document titled “Being Not-Rich at the University of Richmond.” The purpose of this document is to help not-rich students at UR manage their limited funds by introducing them to free and low-cost services in Richmond. This project reflects the clear values, attitudes, and expectations about work at Common Ground. First, the mission of Common Ground is to “[promote] a thriving, equitable, and fully-participatory University community deeply engaged with the broader social world.”1 Thus, a commitment to the values of diversity, acceptance, and inclusion is expected. Another expectation of my position is that I work independently. It is my responsibility to reach out to other students to collaborate with, solicit tips from faculty and staff, and ask for help from my supervisor when needed.
Since there are only four full-time staff members at Common Ground, our interactions are casual. My supervisor and I communicate via email and Zoom. We also utilize a shared Box notes document in which I put most of my work. During our weekly meetings, we discuss the work that I have done in the previous week as well as suggestions for what I should be doing in the upcoming week.
One strength of the culture of Common Ground is that we not only produce results, but that we accomplish it the right way. My supervisor does not only want me to compile a list of resources. She also wants me to educate myself on the different issues that we are trying to improve. She has recommended that I read books and articles, such as Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream by Sara Goldrick-Rab. Throughout the summer, I will be researching other issues, such as food insecurity, housing inequalities, and paying off student loans. This reveals a true commitment to helping marginalized students, not simply checking boxes. Educating myself on these specific issues will help me more effectively aid students.
The Common Ground staff has difficult yet important work. This is made more challenging by the fact that there are only four full-time staff members. There are student employees, such as Cultural Advisors and Spider Firsts Ambassadors, but they are only mainly managed by one person. This work cannot be achieved by only four people, which is why one of the goals of Common Ground is to promote a “fully-participatory University community.” Common Ground hosts several initiatives to try to engage the entire University community, such as White Anti-Racism Discussions. I believe this work is essential in gaining more support so that they can fulfill their mission.