UVA Stories, an Oral History Project
Emily Richardson-Lorente loves a good story. The Rhode Island transplant and accomplished video producer arrived in Charlottesville and began volunteering at WTJU before the station’s General Manager Nathan Moore asked if she would be interested in producing the station’s community talk program Soundboard. So, when Moore received a grant for an oral history project around the University’s Bicentennial, Richardson-Lorente was a natural fit to take the reins. The project aims at capturing stories from 60 UVA voices ranging from professors to administrators to employees and community members. The selection process, she said, has been daunting to say the least. “We got great recommendations, and sought input from students, who conducted their own research. But our list of potential interviewees — which quickly grew to over 200 — was still just a fraction of all the people we thought should be interviewed.” The goal, she says, is not to capture stories about the history of the University, but about the subjects’ experience of it – why they came, why they stayed, what they love, what they would like to see changed.
Richardson-Lorente, who conducts many of the interviews herself, worked with nearly a dozen students on the project over the past year on the project, sharing tasks including research, interviewing, and editing. While some of the guests fall in the usual suspects category, including former President Teresa Sullivan and renowned Center for Politics Director and nationally-known political expert Larry Sabato (College ‘74), and Pulitzer Prize-winner and Poet Laureate of the United States Rita Dove, others not so much. Richardson-Lorente also dives deeper with those people who may not normally have such a platform, like Parking and Transportation Director Becca White (College ‘84), a UVA alum who shared that she felt disconnected from life on Grounds as a student, until she began driving a UVA bus. The experience led directly to paving her own professional path at UVA, and she has never looked back.
Richardson-Lorente is also using her background in Latin American studies and her fluent Spanish to launchUnsettled, a series created by WTJU, in conjunction with local not-for-profit Sin Barreras. “We focus on both documented and undocumented people and talk about their experiences,” she said, “including why they left their country and what their experience of the United States has been. I know Charlottesville is a great hub for refugees and immigrants and thus far a relatively safe place for them, but we also know the policies are evolving.” WTJU listeners can get a taste of both series through one-minute pieces which will air between music programming on the station. The oral history interviews will also be made available online when the project launches in January.