Crystal Thornhill, '11

Senior's exploration of diversity includes teaching others to be examples of inclusivity

March 1, 2011

For Crystal Thornhill, ’11, selection as a Richmond Scholar was just the beginning of a four-year journey exploring multiculturalism and learning how to inspire people to understand each other “on a human level.”

Thornhill’s first interaction with the University of Richmond was as a high school student applying for the Richmond Scholars program. She immediately sensed the welcoming nature of faculty and students, who wanted to get to know her before she was even a student.

“[The selection process] helped me solidify my decision to come here,” she says. “The amount of time and energy they put into my interview made me feel like they must take a lot of time for each of the students here.”

Thornhill ultimately received a full scholarship to the University with a Boatwright Scholar designation, which is awarded based on academic achievement and personal qualities. Selection as a Richmond Scholar also put her in the running to be one of 15 Oliver Hill Scholars — a program designed for African-American students and those with a commitment to multiculturalism.

“As Oliver Hill Scholars, we talk about different issues that are relevant to students, particularly students of color, at the University of Richmond,” she says. “We get to know each other and build a support system here.”

One of the benefits awarded to Oliver Hill Scholars is a $3,000 grant, which Thornhill used to participate in the School of Continuing Studies’ Civil Rights Bus Tour. She spent two weeks following in the footsteps of civil rights activists through the Deep South and Mississippi Delta regions, an experience she describes as life changing. “The grant made it possible for me to go on the trip and pay for my food and travel, so I got to really enjoy the cities and try the different cuisines,” she says.

The stories of people involved with civil rights history resonated with Thornhill, who has spent much of her time at Richmond exploring the future of diversity and acceptance issues.

As an intern in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, she has worked with several of the University’s diversity programs — she works with the next generation of Oliver Hill Scholars, has helped plan Black History Month and Latino-Hispanic Heritage Month events, and assists with the Women of Color support group.

“A lot of the things that I help with [as an intern] are things that I’m already involved in,” she says. “It’s really nice to see how everything plays out and that the little things you didn’t think were that significant, mattered.”

The internship brought her to the doors of Common Ground. Talking to the staff was a chance for Thornhill to dig deeper into the University’s mission of fostering an inclusive environment and to learn more about building relationships across lines of differences.

“Common Ground is a good sounding board for me,” she says. “I can talk to them about my ideas dealing with diversity, race and mental health issues.”

Thornhill is now moving from theoretical study to real-world impact by joining the steering committee for the University’s diversity retreat. While the event is in the early planning stages, she hopes it will be a chance to show her fellow students how to inspire an attitude of inclusivity.

“I’d like to see the retreat help students feel more connected to the University and get to know each other on a human level,” she says. “Then when issues of discrimination do come up, you have a face, and a name, and a person and a conversation that you can put with those stereotypes. It helps you say, ‘that’s not right, that’s not how black people are, or that’s not how gay people are,’ — not because it’s the right thing to do, but because you know in your mind that’s not the case. It’s an opportunity to stand together as just people.”