Few first-year students can claim a byline in a newspaper or magazine. Six University of Richmond students in the first-year seminar Civic Journalism and Social Justice taught by director of public affairs journalism Tom Mullen published their work in Northside Vibes.

A community newspaper founded by Deone McWilliams, Northside Vibes has been in circulation for three years and now has a readership of 54,000 Richmond residents.

"I thought it would be a win-win situation for students to participate in a publication, giving them an opportunity to share their talents, keep them encouraged in the media path they’re traveling, and help them with their careers," McWilliams said.

Paired with excursions to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Red Door Restaurant, a hangout for local journalists, and the Virginia State Capitol, the assignment to write an article for Northside Vibes was an important part of the community-based learning and living-learning course.

"It’s a great way to expose students to diversity and news and to see what’s out there in Richmond," said Mullen, a 2017-18 Bonner Center for Civic Engagement faculty fellow.

At the start of the semester, the class received guidance from McWilliams for their assignment.

"I wanted them to know that being able to write, express, describe deserving communities is a gift," McWilliams said.

McWilliams’ encouragement resonated with the students.

"I really enjoyed the experience to cover what matters and to have a tangible article of my work right out of the gate," said Raven Baugh, ’21.

Each student was able to choose the focus of their article and pursue potential interviewees.

"I chose to write about the cooperation between a local nonprofit and an education center in Highland Park," said Kexin Li, ’21. "I was deeply impressed by their work and inspired in terms of how we can practically address social problems. More than this, I gained better understandings of the dynamic in Richmond: how groups are segregated, how the community has been divided, and how people are striving for solidarity. And what’s more? I’m now an intern in that local nonprofit."

The nonprofit is I AM MY LIFE, founded by UR alum Chaz Barracks, ’11.

Through the assignment, the students were practicing a lesson they were learning in class discussions – the responsibility of journalists to tell stories that inspire social change.

"My first-year seminar provided me with a fresh way of thinking about the news and media, but also the integral role that the news plays within our society," said Chris Barry, ’21.

The students’ understanding of the power of journalism and their efforts for Northside Vibes didn’t go unnoticed.

"Phone calls have been coming in thanking me for the students’ work," McWilliams said.

Reflecting back on her time with the students, McWilliams added, "Their creative minds inspired me. To listen to them speak about their goals and their University really touched me, and I knew there would be an ongoing collaboration with UR."

Mullen will teach Civic Journalism and Social Justice next year as part of The Richmond Endeavor and continue to connect his students with Northside Vibes.