Catesby Saunders, ’12, claims that — in general — he doesn’t like history. What he does find interesting is local history — those past events that help explain how an area became what it is today.

Saunders grew up in South Boston, Va., and went to school in Prince Edward County, famous for its role in Davis v. County Board of Prince Edward County, a court case that was part of Brown v. Board of Education. His high school was founded in 1959 as a whites-only private school after the county closed public schools in protest of desegregation.

To address its role in perpetuating segregation, the school designed a film class in which students were asked to explore the county's history. Saunders and a dozen classmates produced a feature-length documentary that included segments on resistance to desegregation in the 1950s. The project introduced him to many of the people who were involved in and affected by the case and the civil rights movement.

Though Saunders has explored business and art more than history, in his second year at the University of Richmond a unique Southern history course captured his attention. Demanding Equality is a Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program that pairs coursework on activism in the South with experiences outside of the classroom. Through the course, Saunders met residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and researched the role of race in the 2008 election.

“Most people in the class were women’s studies or American studies majors,” says Saunders, whose self-designed interdisciplinary major in marketing and design seems worlds away from these social sciences. “But I knew a lot about the subject by virtue of where I’m from,” he says.

He also found broader connections between his academic interests in communication and persuasion and the course’s focus on social change, including the effectiveness of messages communicated by different social movements.

Content in the River City

Saunders’ penchant for local history extends beyond the classroom. As an active rower and president of the University’s crew team, Saunders spends a lot of time on the James River, which, he says, “…used to be a big part of the rowing world, especially at the turn of the century when Richmond was an active seaport.”

He believes the city has a lot of potential with the presence of the James, two collegiate crew teams and an adult crew club. “It will be exciting to see how Richmond uses the river” in its downtown revitalization, he says. This summer, while working on campus in the Technology Learning Center and as a Student Admissions Representative, he is living at Rocketts Landing, an expanding development along the river in Richmond’s East End.

“I like the city of Richmond,” says Saunders. “It’s urban living with small-town aspects.” Given the many small marketing firms in the city, he’s considering staying in Richmond when he graduates in two years.

In the meantime, he’s focused on making the most of the University’s resources for students. “If there’s something you want to do, and you have a reason, UR will help you be able to do it,” he says. He points to his own self-designed major as an example — it includes coursework from the Robins School of Business and the School of Arts and Sciences, and “carries the same weight as pre-established majors,” he says.