Six contributors from University of Richmond have launched the website RVAGOV to inform students about the City of Richmond’s government. Peter CampoBasso, Richmond College ‘14, and Andrew Talbot, RC ‘15, founded the project this past summer.
“We wanted to make something that was really user-friendly, informative, up-to-date, much more accessible than the current Richmond government website and tailored to the specific needs of a college student,” Talbot said.
The idea came to CampoBasso, politics and student voting coordinator in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, when he was enrolled in Thad Williamson’s Contemporary Richmond Politics course last spring. He became motivated to channel his energy into a new project after he had attended a Richmond City Council meeting, according to University of Richmond newsroom.
CampoBasso’s original plan was to create a handbook guide for engaging in local city government, which eventually became a project for his summer internship at the CCE, Talbot said. The plan changed when Talbot joined him as part of his summer internship with the Bonner Scholars program. Together, they came up with the idea for the website.
Throughout the remainder of this fall and coming semesters, the website will continue to be maintained by Talbot, Ben Panko, RC ‘15, and correspondents Eunice Brumskine, Westhampton College ’15, Brenden Carol, RC ’17, and Kelsey Ensign, WC’15. The RVAGOV team will be working on providing coverage of city council and school board meetings, aggregating stories and curating a local government newsfeed, said Panko, co-editor of RVAGOV.
“Local government matters a lot more than people give it credit for,” Panko said. “Local government is really where stuff can be done and is being done.”
“There seems to be too much emphasis on national politics,” Talbot said. “A lot of important decisions are made at the state and local level.”
Talbot said he was aware there was a certain amount of apathy toward the local government among Richmond students. “Not a lot of students get a lot of exposure to what’s going on in the local city government,” he said.
Additionally, Panko said he thought there was a lack of knowledge and engagement regarding Richmond’s government on campus. “At a school like Richmond … there is a little bit of a learning curve,” Panko said. “There may be some people who just don’t care, but I think there are a lot of people who maybe would care, they just don’t know where to get started. That’s why we’re creating a tool like this … we realize this stuff isn’t easy to figure out.”
RVAGOV is still in the inchoate stages of marketing. So far, the website has been shared with professors whose classes would be relevant, different departments on campus such as journalism and community partners, Talbot said. They had presented RVAGOV to two members of the city council, Charles Samuels and Parker Agelasto, Panko said.
Correspondents have been attending city council and school board meetings throughout the semester, said Alexandra Byrum, UR Downtown educational programming coordinator. Byrum said UR Downtown sponsored and organized the opportunities for students to attend these meetings each semester.
“It’s a great way for students to get a glimpse into local government,” she said.
Currently, the team is focusing on determining an optimal to relay information about the local government, Brumskine said. The website was mainly geared toward students, but was open to those in the community as well, she said.
“We’re aiming broadly to help all citizens of Richmond,” Panko said. “Students at U of R are also citizens of Richmond. This is their home for four years. We should have a voice here and participate here if we want to. We have that right.”
“Being involved with wherever you live is important, especially for people who are serving in Richmond or want to live in Richmond [after graduation],” Talbot said. “You’re going to need to be involved and aware of what’s going on at the government level no matter where you’re living.”
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