Tell us about your job.

The Richmond Promise envisions a diverse and inclusive University of Richmond community. My job, with tremendous support from Lisa Miles, assistant director of Common Ground, is to assist various constituents in making that vision a reality. We help people develop new habits and practices by asking provocative questions that generate discussions. For example, we promote those new habits by holding annual workshops for resident assistants, orientation advisors and others on how to foster relationships across groups and develop a stronger sense of what it means to build community across lines of difference. I’m also a resource for faculty diversity advocates serving on faculty job search committees. One of the most interesting aspects of our work is emotional, which is to say helping people move away from fear and anxiety about diversity and toward empathy and curiosity about inclusion. Related to that challenge is the sometimes provocative issue of the ways that unconscious or unintentional biases affect our assumptions about merit.

I’m a sociologist, so my job is always an interesting and complex challenge as well as an opportunity. The University is full of good intention, and that’s a strong base from which to work. This truly is a sociologist’s dream job.

How long have you been at the University?

This is my eighth year at the University and my fourth year in my current role. My first four years were as a visiting professor of sociology. You can only be a “visitor” for so long, though, and I had reached that limit. I had no interest in doing a national academic search and possibly having to leave Richmond, so I started looking for a director-type position where I could apply my sociology background. It was a coincidence that this job was created around the same time.

Tell us about your educational background.

I have a Ph.D. in sociology with an emphasis in women’s studies from UC Santa Barbara. Running parallel to the academic track, I had a lot of community involvement and activism in the areas of HIV/AIDS, disability, race, gender and social class.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is witnessing other people making positive leaps in their understanding of what real community and mutuality mean. Often this understanding comes when a group that hasn’t historically been a full participant in the community is allowed, or encouraged or demands to speak. To have their concerns received by people or the institution with empathy is what gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a documentary nerd, in the sense of watching a lot of them and talking about them too much, and I play soccer as much as my aging body allows. In a prior life, I played soccer semi-professionally and for the South team in the 1987 U.S. Olympic Festival.