Valentine Intern Spotlight: Susan Shibut
Susan Shibut, the Valentine’s new PR & Marketing Intern, writes about her dedication to sharing Richmond’s complicated history
Hello! My name is Susan Shibut and I am excited to get started in my new position as the Public Relations and Marketing intern here at the Valentine. I’m a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University where I am studying communications with a history minor. In my time here in Richmond I have fallen in love with this city and couldn’t be happier with this opportunity to learn about it and engage with the community.
In my search for an internship the Valentine stood out as an institution with an inspiring mission. There are plenty of opportunities where I could’ve gotten people coffee and written fluffy blogs, but this would be a chance for me to be a part of challenging a narrative and making an impact. I wanted experience that would teach me something, not just look shiny on a resume.
It is so important to always explain history in an accurate and nuanced way, and that’s something Virginia and Richmond specifically have struggled with and often failed at. Virginia’s state-issued history textbook “Virginia: History, Government, Geography,” unabashedly supported the “Lost Cause” myth from 1957 until phased out in the 1970s. The textbook claimed enslaved people, sometimes referred to as “servants,” were happy, content and didn’t work hard because they didn’t fear losing their jobs. That textbook is estimated to have reached more than a million students, so it’s not surprising that the inaccuracies it perpetuated still pop up in education and public discourse today.
Poor interpretation of history has had lasting effects on Richmond, reflected in everything from the statues on Monument Avenue to the zoning of our school system. I hope that with my work at the Valentine I can help take personal and professional initiative to challenge historical failures and build a better, less editorialized interpretation that is accessible to anyone who wants to learn. As I get closer to graduating I am focused on learning how to convey accurate stories, sometimes only armed with sources that don’t necessarily stand up to appropriate standards of truth and integrity. The complicated, painful nature of Richmond’s history and the nation’s history can make this difficult and uncomfortable—and that’s a discomfort that I’ve felt personally, not just in academic or professional writing but in conversations with friends and family. The water has been seriously muddied by years of revisionism, avoidance and myth-making. I want to be a part of making something better, more truthful, and more inclusive than what we’ve seen in the past.
Our vision statement says it best—we are using the past to inform the present and shape the future. I believe that looking back will push us to look forward. I love this city, and it’s a privilege to join the Valentine in trying to make it better.
Susan is the PR & Marketing Intern at the Valentine in Richmond.