The Collegian
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Cultural Advisers bring diverse groups together through alternative activities

Cultural advisers at the University of Richmond hope a new way to spend Saturday nights will build community and enhance diversity at the University of Richmond.

CA Alternatives began last February with pizza and games in Whitehurst living room as an alternative to lodges or apartment parties, said Lisa Miles, assistant director of Common Ground.

"We expected 15 people to show up," Miles said. "Fifty people came."

There are currently 11 cultural advisers living in various residence halls whose mission is to build an inclusive community within their halls; connect students across differences in gender, race and nationality; and create a comfortable living environment, she said.

Junior Lorena Bolanos, a CA in Freeman Hall, said that hosting CA Alternatives was now one of the most important parts of being a cultural adviser, and the alternatives had been successful in fulfilling the program's mission.

"We've heard comments of people saying, 'I'm so happy these events are happening; I don't know what I would do [otherwise],'" she said.

Miles said one of the most popular alternatives had taken place in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. An inflatable obstacle course and moon bounce were set up across the three basketball courts. She said 150 people had attended.

Bolanos said her favorite alternative had been a "coffee house" in the Westhampton Deanery with coffee, tea and dessert.

"We had people perform, either singing or playing an instrument or reading poetry or short stories," she said. "And it was really fun, because we had like 65 people and it got really crowded, but a lot of people really stayed until the end. It was a nice way for people who are not in singing groups or theater to get a space to show their talent."

Although hosting CA Alternatives might be what cultural advisers are best known for, it is not the only thing CAs do, Bolanos said.

Bolanos said she felt comfortable answering questions about the university or about any of the resources available to students who might not feel included in the community.

Miles said she and Glyn Hughes, director of Common Ground, had started the CA program two years ago because it was called for in the Richmond Promise, which promises "an authentic culture of inclusivity that seeks and prizes diversity of experience, belief and thought."

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Miles, who has been at the university for five years, said that she thought Richmond was becoming more diverse.

"The numbers are there," she said. "But with numbers comes the challenge of how to interact."

Miles said Latino, Asian and LGBTQ students now had a greater presence on campus and had found comfort among their own.

"Now the challenge is getting diverse groups to break out and mainstream groups to break out," she said.

Miles said cultural advisers helped bring groups together because they were a diverse group themselves.When they all invite their friends to alternatives, it creates a place more diverse than anywhere else on campus, she said.

Applications to be a CA for the 2012-2013 academic year were due Feb. 17, according to the Common Ground website. Applicants will be notified before spring break whether they have been chosen.

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