Opportunities. Some people have many, others few. Anna Sangree, ’15, seizes every opportunity a University of Richmond education affords her to explore social issues, all the while considering how to provide more opportunities to people living on society’s margins.
The Boston native got her introduction to social issues her first semester on campus when she enrolled in Not Just Food: Hunger and Social Justice, a first-year seminar taught by Dr. Jennifer Erkulwater of the department of political science.
“It was the first time I’d ever heard about food deserts, the content of fast food, and the institutionalization of obesity,” Sangree said.
The community-based learning class also served as an introduction to the city of Richmond, providing Sangree and her classmates a chance to make a presentation on nutrition to an urban school group and to visit an urban garden.
Her interest piqued, Sangree registered with Build It, a neighborhood-based initiative coordinated by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, to volunteer in a fitness-and-nutrition program for elementary school children at the Northside Family YMCA.
“It’s really hard to change attitudes,” Sangree said of her experience at the Y. “The kids didn’t always like to try the different foods we offered. But it does make an impact.”
Next Sangree participated in Living a Life of Consequence, a Sophomore Scholars in Residence program taught by Dr. Craig Kocher of the Chaplaincy.
“We talked about how important personal connections are if we hope to make changes in society,” Sangree said. “Lack of exposure to people who are different from you can reinforce stereotypes and stigmatization on both sides.”
To fulfill the community-based-learning requirement for this class, Sangree again participated in Build It, this time as a mentor at Henderson, a public middle school in Northside Richmond, and as a volunteer at Boaz & Ruth, a nonprofit dedicated to the successful re-entry of ex-offenders. In both cases, Sangree learned about the complexity of social issues through the personal connections she made.
“Many Boaz & Ruth participants were incarcerated because of drugs,” Sangree said, “but they’re not necessarily bad people. People living in areas of concentrated poverty without access to good transportation or jobs with decent pay look for ways to supplement their income.”
Through her major in geography and environmental studies, Sangree has studied social problems on various scales—familial, local, and national.
“Geography deals with spatial justice—how places aren’t equal,” Sangree said. “How your ZIP code often determines your livelihood. How environmental issues affect certain places more than others.”
Last summer, with the help of an Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fellowship, Sangree examined spatial justice in an international context when she studied the connection between gender and conservation in the Amazon under the guidance of Dr. Mary Finley-Brook as part of a project directed by Dr. David Salisbury, both of the department of geography and the environment.
She then spent the fall semester studying with the School for Field Studies in Costa Rica, a Richmond affiliate program.
“The program focused on sustainability,” Sangree said. “We worked on a farm, took cold showers every other day, and composted everything. I’ve become much more environmentally conscious since studying in Costa Rica and Peru. We are not conserving enough here in America. We should feel some personal responsibility.”
This summer, Sangree hopes to continue learning about social-justice issues connected to her major. She is applying for a Civic Fellowship to fund an internship with Shalom Farms, a nonprofit community farm project dedicated to increasing food security in the Richmond region, particularly in low-income urban neighborhoods.
Sangree hopes that the many educational opportunities she has embraced as an undergraduate will ultimately help her find ways to increase opportunities for others, regardless of their code.