Name: Ashlee Murphy '10
Major: Sociology
Minor: History
Academics: Oliver Hill Scholar
University Scholar
Study Abroad in Milan, Italy
Activities: Umoja Gospel Choir
Resident Assistant
Christian Student Fellowship
Tutor at Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT)

Ashlee Murphy is spending the summer researching school integration in Richmond public schools in the 1950s–1970s. She is working alongside Melissa Ooten, associate director of the Women Involved in Living and Learning Program.

Describe your research project.

I am currently reading books and researching old news articles about school integration and reviewing the oral histories of people who were students, teachers, or parents during that era. Eventually I will interview people in the community and document their experiences as well.

Reading old news articles means that I’ve had to re-learn how to use the microfilm machine in the library, since the last time I used one was in elementary school! Dr. Ooten gave me a list of dates to review for specific events and I am currently looking through The Richmond Times-Dispatch for dates in the 1950s. Soon I’ll begin to look through The Afro-American, a popular African American newspaper from that same time period. It’s fascinating to read these accounts in the newspaper—it makes me feel like I’m on the front lines of the event. When I read about the school closings in a book, it’s a somewhat condensed and filtered version of the event; when I read about it on microfilm, though, I get a much better picture of how it affected the students, parents and school leaders through reading their statements and reactions from the day the event actually happened.

How’d you get involved in the project?

Well, the project originated with the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). Staff at Mary Mumford Elementary School asked the CCE if a faculty member would be interested in researching the school’s history, with specific attention paid to school integration and the busing system in Richmond. The CCE referred the project to Dr. Melissa Ooten.

Two summers ago, I had gone on the University’s Civil Rights tour as part of a May-term class. Dr. Ooten was one of the professors teaching the course, so when she recently asked me if I’d help her with this research project, I knew it was something I would be interested in.

What prepared you for this opportunity?

The Civil Rights trip and another class, Sociology of Education, heightened my interest in inequalities in education and the vast range of effects from the Brown decision. Both experiences caused me to ponder what could be done on the local level and on a national scale to diversify schools and enhance the quality of education at individual schools. Because of my coursework, I was used to reviewing oral histories and reading and taking notes about individual school districts and various education policies, so looking at education from a “big picture” perspective seemed like a natural next step.

How do you see this project contributing to your collegiate success during the rest of your time at Richmond?

During the fall 2009 semester, Dr. Ooten is teaching a class on activism in the South, with an extra emphasis on the Civil Rights Movement. Some of the information that we uncover through this summer’s research will be incorporated into the curriculum for the class. This course is associated with the Sophomore Scholars-In-Residence program, so all of the students in the class will be living together on the same floor in Lakeview Residence Hall. I’ll be the Resident Assistant for this floor, so I can help facilitate discussions or answer questions that people may have about this topic.

You’ve got a crystal ball. What’s in store for you after graduation?

I would like to do Teach For America in a rural community and then attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where I’d like to study education policy.

A full day of research lies ahead of you. What’s on your iPod?

India Arie and Nicole C. Mullen, two women whose music is relaxing and empowering.

What book is on your bedside table?

My Bible and a GRE Prep book.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Greece! It looks breathtakingly beautiful.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The world’s first ice-skating scientist or a preacher.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

Research. My liberal arts education has given me the ability to combine my interests with research. Before I came to college, I thought research was mostly for scientists in lab coats. But since I’ve been at Richmond, I’ve done studies in several fields, including sociology, psychology, and history. Research is an important part of graduate school, so I’m really pleased to have had access to these opportunities throughout my undergraduate career.