Piloting a Student Historian in Residence Program at the University of Wisconsin: Reflections and Lessons Learned

By Cat Phan

The University Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison just completed the pilot year of its Student Historian in Residence program this summer. This program is designed to provide the opportunity for one undergraduate student to join the staff of University Archives for an academic year and undertake a significant research project related to university history focusing on under-researched and underrepresented stories and communities on campus. As part of their responsibilities, the Student Historian is also expected to engage in outreach activities, promoting their discoveries and the collections and sharing the outcome of their research in one or more ways.

The program started as a simple idea conceived to take advantage of a funding opportunity. The UW-Madison General Library System was inviting all library units to submit proposals for the new Innovation Fund, a program “to financially support the most promising innovative ideas proposed by library staff across the General Library System.” So, we in the University Archives proposed and were awarded pilot funding for a new student staff position, the Student Historian in Residence. The idea was straightforward: provide a paid opportunity to a student to undertake research in our archives collections on a topic related to campus history, focusing on underrepresented campus stories. We modeled the position after similar programs at other institutions as an intense weeks-long limited term research project, and our goals were simple: bring students into the archives to do research and learn more about previously overlooked aspects of campus history.

We posted for the position, leaving it open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Out of a healthy applicant pool, we hired Rena Yehuda Newman, an undergraduate history major entering their junior year. We structured Rena’s work first by onboarding them to the University Archives and archives in general, selecting readings and pulling targeted collections around their interest area, student activism. We set up one-on-one meetings for Rena to meet and get to know the rest of the University Archives staff and also set up a weekly check-in meeting for Rena and me, as their direct supervisor. As we got to laying out a tentative plan and target milestone deadlines for their project, we quickly realized that the original idea of several intense weeks was not suited for an undergraduate student. Rena had a packed class schedule, among other obligations. We had to readjust the work to be fewer hours per week, over a longer period of time. It was something we would have to do all year long: adjust, pivot, and accelerate in a different direction.

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“Student Memory: Then and Now” Poster by Rena Yehuda Newman (They/Them), presented at MAC 2019 in Detroit

Rena’s list of accomplishments during the year is long and impressive. They regularly contributed to our UW-Madison Archives Tumblr feed, notching ten blog entries; they wrote a research paper; presented on their work and their research at least five times across campus, including a guest lecture to their undergraduate peers in a Civil Society and Community Studies class; produced a primary resource teaching guide around the UW-Madison Black Student Strike of 1969 (a version of which will soon be submitted as a resource to Wisconsin OER Commons); presented a poster at the Midwest Archives Conference (and was selected as one of the top three scoring posters!); created a zine “What is an Archive?”; and undertook collecting some oral histories of contemporary student activism on campus. The position and Rena have been, without a doubt, an amazing success.

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Screen shot of Tumblr post by inaugural Student Historian in Residence, Rena Yehuda Newman.

As we take the time to reflect now, there are many things that we learned over the past year that will help us structure the program moving forward. First and foremost, we realize this should be defined as an undergraduate position. Although left undefined in the pilot year, having hired an undergraduate student as our inaugural Student Historian, we witnessed the impact of empowering and trusting undergraduate students to play an integral role in researching and telling university stories. Moreover, few opportunities for archival and secondary source research exist for undergraduates. This position will likely be their first opportunity to engage in primary source research and to conceive of and complete a public history project. In this way, we contribute to introducing undergraduates to the archives and helping them understand their place in university history.

As mentioned above, we modified the structure of the position on the fly, changing it from a weeks-long project position to an academic year position, with Rena working many fewer hours per week than we had originally envisioned. This works best for undergraduates during the academic year, who often have limited hours per week to balance with a busy class schedule. In addition, we found it best to give the student more time to orient themselves and learn about the University Archives and archives in general. The longer time period also allows the student to get to know both full-time and student staff at the archives, an integral aspect of the experience. Moving forward, the general framework for the year will be 1) onboarding and orientation, 2) research, likely over the first semester, and 3) a writing/presenting and outreach focus during semester two.

We now know how important it is to devote a significant amount of time to properly onboard. While Rena had some familiarity with the archives, having had a class assignment that brought them into a reading room, they still needed time to learn more deeply about archives, what they are, and what they can mean to students in order to understand the goals of the position. It would also be worth spending time integrating the student into the other work of the archives, meeting the other student staff. Moreover, Rena unexpectedly launched into many outreach activities over the course of the year and effectively became a University Archives student ambassador to their peers. In thinking back, how would we want to prepare the student to be an archives ambassador? What should they know about archives, specifically about the University Archives collections, about what and how we accept and collect materials-(Rena brought donation ideas many times!)? Could we make our collection development and donation procedures easier for undergraduate students to understand? Moreover, Rena’s outreach work made us re-think what this position could and should be. We witnessed the impact of peer-to-peer outreach and education. In their final reflection piece, Rena wrote that they believed the position should be thought of more as a “public office” rather than strictly a research position. The position’s platform and power, they felt, gave them a responsibility to serve the student body by engaging in community outreach and educational activities.

There are also many challenges that we will continue to think through as we develop the program. For example, how do we provide a consistent framework, structure, and expectations for a position that will necessarily be defined by the individual who occupies it, with their own interests, experiences, and abilities? Also, we had many, many conversations with Rena on how their own identity impacted the work and research they were doing and can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hire students with perspectives from underrepresented communities on campus. We have not previously reached out to the black, indigenous, and students of color of campus. How do we reach out to these communities responsibly and respectfully to ensure they are a part of defining the program? There’s a lot to think about as we move forward.

Finally, I’m happy to report that we applied for and were awarded a Kemper Knapp Bequest grant, a UW-Madison campus grant supporting projects that “have an impact on the educational and cultural life of the university community, particularly projects that benefit undergraduate students” to continue the program for another year. Moreover, we are working with the budget powers that be to develop what the funding would look like to support the program permanently through the General Library System budget.

We are excited to continue growing the Student Historian program and recognize that it is still in its early years. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share our experience and invite others to share their thoughts or experiences with similar programs.

Stay tuned as our next post will feature Rena’s perspective on their experience as the inaugural Student Historian in Residence.


Cat Phan has been the Digital and Media Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University Archives since December 2016, caring for and managing the image and audiovisual collections of the Archives and leading the development of the born-digital archiving program.

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Section Meeting at the 2019 Annual Meeting, Austin TX

By Ellen Engseth, C&U Archives Section Chair, 2019-2020

Please join us at the meeting of the College & University Archives Section, Saturday August 3, 2019 (10:00am – 11:15am at the JW Marriott Austin)! 

After a short business meeting, we’ll discuss our working theme of this year, social justice and campus histories. Many of us are or will be involved with campus-based contested or evolving histories, and this meeting will provide us an opportunity to discuss. Hear short presentations by colleagues Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, Brigette Kamsler, David McCartney, and Sandra Varry. 

Bring your questions and thoughts to the meeting; there will be time for Q&A and discussion. And feel free to invite others, as you don’t need to be a section member to attend our section meeting.

A group of Academic Archivist blog posts related to this theme are available online. Thanks to all who have contributed to this group of resources on the topic!

Thank you and see you in Austin.

Your chair,
Ellen

Documenting Confederate Monument Protests at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

By Nicholas Graham and Jessica Venlet

On August 20, 2018, following a rally on campus, protestors pulled down the statue on top of the Confederate monument that had stood on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1913. Activists in Chapel Hill had been working for years to contextualize or remove the monument, known informally as “Silent Sam,” and were galvanized by monument removals in other locations, especially the toppling of a Confederate monument in nearby Durham, North Carolina.

The removal of the monument drew national media attention to Chapel Hill and has dominated campus discussions in the months that have followed. Protests and counter-protests are regularly held on campus, each with a surrounding storm of statements, photos, media coverage, and social media posts.

In the UNC University Archives, we have used a variety of tools and strategies to document the ongoing actions and discussions around the monument. Our work has been bounded by an attempt to balance rapid response collecting with more traditional donor outreach. While our archival instincts have us eager to capture as much as possible as soon as possible, we have often held back due to practical and ethical concerns. Throughout this process, we have paid close attention to the work of other archives and organizations, especially Documenting the Now. Their white paper on ethical considerations for archiving social media, released in April 2018, has been a valuable resource for us.

One of the most challenging aspects of documenting these recent events at UNC – especially the August 20 rally that led to the removal of the statue – is that they are being treated as crimes. Some of the activists have been charged in connection with the toppling of the statue and several of these cases have yet to be resolved. We have tried to consider the impact our collecting activities could have on activists and their allies. We have used a few different strategies to document the protests while events have unfolded.

Initial collecting work has focused on three primary areas:

  1. Statements and News Articles
    The recent period of frequent protests related to the Confederate monument began in August 2017. Since that time university departments, graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, North Carolina politicians, and others have released statements and calls for action regarding the place of the Confederate monument on campus. We track and archive these statements actively. The statements come in a variety of digital forms such as departmental webpages, blog posts, tweets, PDF documents, and Google documents. The majority of these statements are collected with Archive-It though some are added as PDF documents to our digital repository. Part of the collection of statements, which also includes news articles and editorials from local and national news outlets, is available to the public (August 2017 to July 2018). Another portion of the collection, following the toppling of the statue in August 2018, is still in process and not publicly available yet. 
  2. Social Media
    We collected Twitter content primarily focused on a few key hashtags that evolved over the past couple years (#silentsam, #silencesam, #strikedownsam). Initially we were uncertain about collecting Tweets without permission, but we ultimately decided that Twitter has facilitated new approaches for sparking action on campus that are unique to this moment and this generation of student activists. We felt it would be an important addition to other records in the archives that document student activism around the Confederate monument. We only perform searches for hashtags – not keywords – because we view hashtags as a type of public participation that is different from individual Tweets intended only for a user’s direct followers. If we collect a specific Twitter user account, we would only do so with permission. We also set limits on how often we collect hashtags because we felt snapshots of the conversation were more appropriate than a comprehensive approach due to our inability to gain permission from every user.We collect Twitter content by API and use twarc, so that we can provide access to Tweet identifiers only and to offer more possibilities for digital scholarship research methods. (We don’t want to launch into the details of why Tweet IDs are used because this isn’t a post on Twitter archiving, but see more from Social Feed Manager blog which discusses how terms of service impact access.)

    We have also collected Facebook events for protests and counter-protests held on the UNC campus in our Archive-It collection.

  3. Ephemera
    Flyers, buttons, zines, and more have been collected from around campus and during demonstrations. Some are gathered by staff, others have been contributed by student activists.
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Recent acquisitions related to Confederate monument protests and opposition at UNC-Chapel Hill. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives.

The future of the UNC-Chapel Hill Confederate monument is still unresolved. The monument is being held at an undisclosed location while the campus awaits word from the UNC System Board of Governors, who will decide on its final disposition. As we wait for a decision and the discussion and protest that is likely to follow, we feel that it is not too soon to reflect on our work and share a few principles that continue to guide our collecting.

  1. We will collect thoughtfully and respectfully from the beginning. Although it is tempting to just grab as much as possible and figure out what to do with it later, we recognize that doing so could compromise the safety of student activists and would only postpone important decisions that we would have to make.
  2. Traditional archival practices are still essential when collecting online materials. Whenever possible, we make an effort to connect with the people who are creating this material and ask for permission before collecting and sharing it in the archives.
  3. It is essential that we continue to communicate with, share, and learn from our colleagues in the profession. We are not the only archive working through these issues. Our practices have been shaped by discussions with colleagues at other institutions and we are eager to continue these in the future. This blog post is in that spirit – we look forward to hearing from others who have questions or thoughts about our recent work around or who have their own experiences to share.

 

Learn More

Guide to Resources on the History of the UNC-Chapel Hill Confederate Monument. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives research guide.

“Silent Sam: A Timeline.” WCHL News. Timeline of Confederate monument protest and counter-protest at UNC-Chapel Hill, 2015-2019.

Collecting a Snapshot of #SilenceSam. UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives blog post.

Documenting the Now white paper and website.

Project STAND


Nicholas Graham has worked in Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2003. He has been the University Archivist since 2015. Prior to UNC, he worked at MIT and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Jessica Venlet works as the Assistant University Archivist for Digital Records and Records Management for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries. In this role, she is responsible for a variety of things related to both records management and digital preservation. In particular, she leads the processing and management of born-digital materials.

Hip, Square, and in Between: A 1960s College Town Comes to (Digital) Life

By David McCartney

“If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there,” goes the familiar saying, particularly among baby boomers. Over the decades the quote has been attributed to many, including Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, a rock band that exemplified those far-out, psychedelic times. Ms. Slick, or whoever said it first, was certainly on to something. Or maybe on something.

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Poster promoting Vietnam War Moratorium, October 1969. Collection no. RG 02.0004.001 Student-Produced Flyers and Handouts Collection

But while the ’60s encompassed an emerging counter-culture – perhaps its most popular image today – the decade also embodied a wide range of experiences among students on U.S. college and university campuses. Political movements, social activities, ROTC classes, fraternity and sorority life, challenges to academic traditions, the sexual revolution, relaxing of student conduct codes, and more: these are the parts that make up the whole, a complex and remarkable historical period. And music. Don’t forget the music.

For Iowa City, home of the State University of Iowa, as it was known until 1964, highlights of this period are documented in a digital exhibit curated and produced as a collaboration among several units of the University Libraries: the University Archives, the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, and Preservation and Conservation Services. According to the site, the exhibit is “an immersive content discovery tool made possible by collaborators within and beyond the University of Iowa Libraries.”

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1972 SDS Newsletter documenting the Herrnstein incident. Collection no. RG 02.0009.030 Emil Rinderspacher Papers

Recognizing that the 50-year anniversaries of numerous events, both local and national in scope, were approaching, beginning in 2014 I had informal discussions with a cross-section of faculty from several departments to determine what they would like to experience in such an exhibit for research and instruction purposes. Political science, history, journalism, English, military science, and other academic and service areas were contacted. I also reached out to about a dozen alumni to seek out their ideas.

Curation followed, based in part on these conversations but also based on previous reference experience. Popular topics that evolved for the site include civil rights, student life, politics and protest, the arts, the second-wave feminist movement, gay rights (the term LGBTQ did not come into popular usage until recently), and popular culture. Technical information about creation of the site is included in a colophon linked from the exhibit’s home page. The resulting exhibit, “Uptight and Laid-back: Iowa City in the Sixties,” was released in 2016, featuring content selected from over 40 collections across the University Archives. Occasionally, new content is added as additional resources are identified.

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Screen shot of the landing page for the “Uptight & Laid-Back” exhibit.

While the title declares “the Sixties,” I determined the site’s timeline bookends as November 1959, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the campus, and January 1973, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and what was billed at the time as “the last anti-war demonstration on campus.”

Interactive features of the site include a set of layered campus maps spanning 1958 to 1975, and a link for alumni and others to submit their own stories or images for inclusion on the site. Dynamic content includes a 1960 University of Iowa newsreel, a half-hour documentary recounting the 1967 Dow riot at the student union, the inauguration of Howard Bowen as university president in 1964, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren speaking at the dedication of the new law school commons in 1962.

The site also highlights digitally-reformatted audio recordings of selected poetry readings and literary ‘happenings,’ thanks to the presence of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Featured individuals include Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Margaret Walker Alexander, Jorge Luis Borges, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Some take-aways:

  • Collaboration takes time. The DSPS staff were particularly enthusiastic and supportive, as this is in keeping with the Studio’s mission to provide faculty the opportunity to access digital content pertinent to their research and instruction needs. The project also enabled University Archives to work closely with Preservation and Conservation in selecting audiovisual content that was at risk of loss. An important consideration to keep in mind from the outset is allowing the collaborating units adequate lead time and to set realistic schedules for completion, on account of workflow demands of other projects.
  • If you build it, they may not come. The feature allowing alumni to contribute content is the most disappointing outcome of the project to date. Despite a column about it in the our alumni magazine (I write a quarterly column, “Old Gold,” for the print edition as well as electronic editions 10 times/year via the university’s newsfeed and social media) and news releases via the university’s strategic communication office, there have been only three submissions to date. The alumni relations office and the library have received many positive comments about the site but, alas, few submissions. With editor approval I would like to write a reminder piece soon, as 50-year anniversary event dates continue in the time ahead and to confer with the alumni relations office about reaching out to specific affinity groups to inform them of this option.
  • Collecting efforts are still necessary. Our holdings are generally strong in this area, and my predecessor Earl Rogers collected much ephemera from this period soon after he began work here in 1970. However, the archives still has inadequate documentation of the experiences of African-American, LGBTQ, and other groups of students of this time. Again, I need to make the time to work with alumni relations for specific and targeted outreach.

To learn more about the site and my experiences, please plan to attend the College and University Archives Section Meeting in Austin on Saturday, August 3 from 10-11:15 a.m., or watch for the shared notes from that meeting.

I didn’t enter college until fall 1974, so I have no memory of the ‘60s in the way that Grace Slick (or whoever) meant. Nevertheless, I hope that “Uptight and Laid-back…” continues to serve as a useful and entertaining resource. You dig?


David McCartney, C.A., is the University of Iowa archivist, a position he has held since 2001. He has master’s degrees in history and library science, both from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is immediate past president of the Midwest Archives Conference.

Classes and Collaboration in the University Archives

By Brigette C. Kamsler

Across campuses nationwide, universities are taking an even closer look at the history of their organizations. Those who work with archives know this is nothing new, but we seem to see it more often in our daily news. Buildings and streets being renamed; monuments and statues being removed; yearbooks being scoured; all of these can pop up in our newsfeeds.

The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. is experiencing this as well. The University’s history can be traced back to 1819 when a group of Baptist ministers worked together to purchase land, petition Congress for a charter (awarded February 9, 1821), and organize a college, named Columbian College. Needless to say, much has happened in the intervening centuries.

Although I have only been at GW since August 2018, I have heard many stories of activism and awareness on campus.  Almost immediately, I was able to view and experience firsthand how the work of past Special Collections professionals influenced our holdings and how faculty and students use the archives in a variety of ways. I will provide some examples of how the archives have been used for special projects and in classes, and how archives and library professionals can create specific outputs to support this work.

GW’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) partnered with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion beginning in 2013-2014 for a Diversity Research Fellowship. The Fellowship, funded through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants, was open to any current GW student; applicants supplied a research statement that described their own areas of research interest, their GW faculty advisor’s contact information, their resume, and an optional list of collections they wanted to view. The fellows used University Archives to research topics such as non-academic staff, women, veterans, and international students at GW. The program continued in 2014-2015 and a second cohort of fellows researched religion on campus, LGBTQ movements on campus, and the 1960s Chicano movement and its impact on GW’s curriculum. Their work was shared in a variety of ways including presentations, social media and blog entries, with the majority of information incorporated into GW Past, a staff-generated set of articles, which began first as an Encyclopedia. The program specific to the Special Collections was discontinued after the second year, however the Innovation in Diversity and Inclusion grants continue more broadly (and research projects using archives are still funded).

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GW students analyze this 1836 anti-slavery poster.

At a push from the faculty and following the example of many other schools, in 2016 GW’s then-president, Steven Knapp, funded a one-year student research project to identify resources related to slavery, segregation, and racial justice in the University Archives. Some of this information, such as the history of slavery at the University, had been documented on GW Past.

Continuing the momentum from President Knapp’s one-year project, a new class in the department of history was created to explore GW’s history with slavery and segregation. The class, HIST2305W, was first offered in Spring 2018, and I participated in it during its second year in Spring 2019. The students were able to choose whatever topic they wanted – the main caveat being the majority of their research had to utilize archives from GW. Leah Richardson, Research and Instruction Librarian for Special Collections, created a research guide and worked with other SCRC staff to create a list of topics and potential collections; however, it was expanded upon to include the students’ interests. I had a wonderful and thought-provoking experience working with these students and it was a crash course in GW history. Topics students researched included segregation and desegregation of Greek life; segregation in Foggy Bottom (the DC neighborhood where the university is located); Lisner Auditorium and segregation; University President Cloyd Heck Marvin; and race in the Second World War.

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Students using archives this past academic year.

Tom Guglielmo’s Fall 2018 class, AMST4500W: Interrogating GW, is another great example of archives being used to reflect on the school’s past. The students spent a few classes physically located in the Special Collections, working with staff and using archival collections. Each student spent the semester writing a substantial research paper on some aspect of the university, such as student activism; race, class, or gender politics; real estate holdings; cultural representation; labor struggles; and the school’s relationship to DC or Foggy Bottom. The students presented their work at a conference at the end of the semester (also look for the hashtag #interrogateGW on Twitter). While this class was on the history of GW generally, many of the same topics were explored. There has certainly been an impact on the archives staff with the influx of new classes and people researching, often on the same topics or using the same material. For more on my experiences with these challenges, please plan to attend our Section Meeting in Austin on Saturday, August 3 from 10-11:15 a.m., or watch for the shared notes from that meeting.

Student leaders at GW have also been working to move forward on renaming buildings on campus. The Student Association convened an informal task force of about ten students to conduct background research on prominent names on university buildings in 2017. Students, however, graduate and move on from the university, thus the task force had a bit of trouble keeping momentum. More recently, students want to form a committee comprised of faculty, students and officials who will research building names.[i]

Ultimately, throughout all of these topics and explorations, the archives can open up new pathways to discovery. These activities are bringing people, perhaps for the first time, into contact with these original materials. The GW Special Collections are open to the public, and we welcome everyone to conduct this research themselves.

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Staff working collaboratively in the Special Collections Research Center to identity materials for the course “Freedom Struggles in Black and Brown.” Assignments for the course will require students to draw heavily on the archives for their research.

What can archives professionals do to aid in this type of work? Leah’s Research Guide is an excellent example of being able to look in one place to identify relevant collections. We also do not have to reinvent the wheel each time – we keep track of what has been done in the past, and keep building. At GW, perhaps we could explore more topics with GW Past, and point to the specific collections that contain the information. We could also put together information for people at various levels of the organization – from students to faculty to the administration. When I come across information on the naming of a building, I make a note or take a photograph to remind myself of it just in case there is a question in the future.

The George Washington University is nearly 200 years old. The Special Collections are here to continue to document the history and events of the past and present, to lead us into the future and assist those who are working towards campus change by making that information available. The rest is up to them.


Brigette C. Kamsler is the University Archivist at The George Washington University. Originally from Gettysburg, PA, she was United States Corporate Archivist for the bank HSBC; Project Archivist at the Burke Library at Columbia University in the City of New York; and Archivist and Research Center Coordinator at the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland.

 

[i] Explore more on this topic in these articles: Sept. 12, 2017: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2017/09/11/student-committee-to-examine-problematic-history-behind-gw-building-names/; April 23, 2018: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2018/04/23/task-force-examining-problematic-building-names-stalls-eight-months-after-launch/; Oct. 29, 2019: https://www.gwhatchet.com/2018/10/29/sa-leaders-revive-charge-to-examine-controversial-building-names/.

Campus Unrest at 50: Commemorating the Legacy of Dissent at Queens College

By Annie Tummino and Rachel Kahn

Queens College, City University of New York, was a microcosm of campus unrest in 1969, as multiple streams of dissent rocked the campus. The 50th anniversary of 1969 served as the perfect opportunity for current staff of the Special Collections and Archives (SCA) department to create an exhibit commemorating that memorable year. Untangling the events of 1969 was tricky business, as protests escalated in quick and dizzying succession. Moreover, this was our first experience putting together an exhibit.

Several positive outcomes resulted from this project. First, we possess a much better understanding of Queens College history in the late 1960s, as well as gaps in our collections that need to be filled. Second, we understand how to put together an effective exhibit, a skill that will carry over into future work. Third, and perhaps best of all, the exhibit served as a platform for outreach with community members, faculty, and donors, leading to increased involvement in the archives.

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Sit-In, 1969, Queens College Communications Photographs.

1969 at Queens College
Two movements predominated during the 1968/1969 academic year at Queens College: anti-racist Black and Puerto Rican students sought self-determination and control over the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) Program, while Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) targeted corporations like G.E. and Dow Chemical, exposing how they profited from the war in Vietnam. The movements were organized simultaneously and independently.

 

In 1966, the New York State legislature launched the SEEK Program to open the City University of New York to a new generation of working-class students. In 1969, the Queens College SEEK population was almost exclusively Black and Puerto Rican, but its teaching and administrative staff were almost entirely white. Informed by political ideologies of leaders like Malcolm X and organizations such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords, these students banded together to fight for autonomy over the curriculum and personnel of the SEEK program.

Meanwhile, predominantly white students, many of whom were active in the Queens College Chapter of SDS, led protests against the Vietnam War, taking aim at military and corporate recruiters on campus. As the students’ tactics escalated, so did the responses of the Queens College administration, leading to suspensions and arrests. To fight these crackdowns, an ad-hoc committee formed to fight for student rights and academic freedom on campus.

In the fall of 1968, a popular Marxist professor named Sheila Delany was fired (or technically, not rehired) by the English Department. The demand to “Reappoint Sheila Delany” became one of the rallying cries of the ad-hoc coalition, along with a demand to drop charges against students who had been suspended for disrupting the visit of a G.E. recruiter at the College Placement Bureau, and to reject the Max-Kahn Referendum, a CUNY policy which stated that the administration did not have to disclose the reasons when they chose not to reappoint faculty.

The SEEK activists won several of their demands, starting with the appointment of the first African American director. With increased autonomy, SEEK’s personnel and curriculum diversified, and Queens College SEEK became a truly innovative and representative educational program. Many of the demands of SDS and the ad-hoc committee were not met; however, significant changes to campus governance were made. Most significantly, an Academic Senate which gave voice to non-tenured faculty and students was established for the first time.

Lessons and New Directions
Co-curating the exhibit was equal parts daunting and exciting. We wanted to make sure that each part of the story was well represented, which was challenging for a few reasons. First, the bulk of our materials consisted of letters, flyers, and newspapers. While these print-based materials contained lots of relevant information, they often weren’t particularly eye catching.  Luckily, we were able to add visual interest by locating several relevant photographs in a recent unprocessed addition to our College Photographs Collection. We also had to learn to think like curators – figuring out which pieces were symbolic of larger events and would help the viewer understand the bigger picture. We worked hard to arrange the materials in a logical fashion, with text that was neither too long nor too short. This involved lots of staring from a distance, editing, and rearranging!

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SEEK Coalition Flier, circa January 1969, Michael Wreszin Papers.

In terms of content, we wanted to represent both the anti-war and SEEK protests accurately and equitably. Unfortunately, the SEEK rebellion was not as well represented in our collections, illustrating the need for new and intentional documentation efforts. We did our best with what we had, including newspapers, a few key fliers, and information from a memoir by the Dean of Students. SCA also reached out to SEEK, borrowing a photograph for the exhibit, and utilizing and referencing a display located in the SEEK office.

SCA is staffed by a single full-time department head, along with several part-time archivists, student assistants, and graduate fellows. With the opening of a part-time position in February, SCA prioritized hiring someone with community documentation and oral history skills, who could help remedy gaps in our collections. We were thrilled to add Obden Mondesir, who has extensive experience managing oral history projects at the Weeksville Heritage Center, to our team. Obden is currently working on a historical treatment of the Queens College SEEK program and reaching out to existing contacts to gather names for possible interviews. We are excited to start this process with an interview of William Modeste, a counselor who has worked with SEEK since its inception at Queens College in 1966.

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Rachel Kahn and Wally Rosenthal at the exhibit.

Outreach and Engagement
It was fantastic to interview figures who were involved with the events of 1968/1969, including Sheila Delany (who went on to have a 36-year tenure at Simon Fraser University, pioneering gender studies and a Marxian approach to literature in many books and articles) as well as Wally Rosenthal, one of the student leaders of the anti-war demonstrations (who went on to serve as an “openly red” shop steward in his union). These interviews provided broader context for the events and helped clarify the narrative. For example, we assumed Sheila’s leftist politics had gotten her fired. Only from the interview did we understand the role that sexism played. As Sheila reported, she was told by the English Department Chair, “You could be a fascist or a communist, we don’t care if you’re charming enough.” She was also attacked as having an “abrasive” personality. From Wally we gained a better understanding of the thinking behind occupations and other disruptive tactics used in 1969. As quoted in the exhibit, the students were “protesting the administration’s complicity with corporations that produced weapons and other products used by the U.S. military in its horrific assault on the people of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.” This anti-war position wasn’t always clear in the fliers from the period, which tended to focus on battles with the administration over suspensions and arrests. We also added panels that provided context for Sheila and Wally’s lives and continued activism since 1969.

The exhibit has also supported curriculum integration and programming. This past spring, we worked with a member of the history faculty to incorporate archival instruction into the class “America in the 1960s.” In addition to participating in a document analysis exercise and visiting the archives for research appointments, students were given the opportunity to write a reflection essay on the exhibit for extra credit. We are currently working with an English professor to incorporate primary sources into a class being offered this fall titled “Literature and Human Rights,” including a unit on the peace movement which will feature the exhibit, and Wally Rosenthal as a guest speaker. Finally, this September Sheila Delany is visiting Queens College all the way from Canada. We plan to track down additional 1969 associates to participate in a reception and Q & A, extending the invitation to current faculty and student activists. We hope this will be an opportunity not only to reminisce, but to discuss political parallels to today and how new generations of activists can bring the fight forward for a more just world.

You can preview the exhibit here and learn more about Queens College Special Collections and Archives here.


Annie Tummino is Head of Special Collections and Archives at the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, Queens College. Prior to that she worked as the Archivist at SUNY Maritime College and as a Project Archivist at several New York-based institutions. Outside of her paid work she organizes with National Women’s Liberation and volunteers for the Redstockings Archives for Action. She received her Masters of Library and Information Studies and Archives Certificate from Queens College in December 2010.

Rachel Kahn is an Archives Assistant at Special Collections and Archives at the Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library. She will be obtaining her MLS from Queens College in summer 2019. Previously, she obtained her MA in Cinema Studies in 2013 from San Francisco State University, where she became the first media librarian for the film department. She has done archival work with such institutions as the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Museum of the Moving Image, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and HBO.

A Campus Divided

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Visitors engage with the A Campus Divided exhibit. Image courtesy University of Minnesota Libraries.

By Kate Dietrick

In August 2017 an exhibit titled A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anti-Communists, Racism, and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota, 1930-1942 opened in Elmer L. Andersen Library, the home of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota. The exhibit was a culmination of years of original research pulling from archival materials to tell the story of racism and surveillance of students on campus during the interwar years.

My involvement, as Archivist for the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, dates back to 2013 when I befriended Professor (now Emeritus) Riv-Ellen Prell, who was then-director of the Center for Jewish Studies. In conversation she asked what, if anything, we had in the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives that related specifically to antisemitism at the University of Minnesota. I told her we didn’t have much – I had anecdotal stories from conversations with Jewish community members, but no concrete evidence of antisemitic policy by university administration. Nevertheless, I encouraged her to research the topic in the archives and should she find ample resources, we could mount an exhibit in Andersen Library. This type of exhibit would be somewhat new for us – most of our exhibits showcase engaging and eye-catching items from the collection, not original research by our patrons.

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Signage directs visitors to the exhibit. Image courtesy University of Minnesota Libraries.

The topic grew as Professor Prell brought on Sarah Atwood, a PhD candidate in American Studies, and through two years of research they uncovered documentation in the archives of targeted university administration policies and actions against black, Jewish, and progressive students on campus. On my end as archivist, I helped facilitate research and coordinated with our exhibit designer Darren Terpstra to get the exhibit edited, designed, mounted, and publicized. From August to December of 2017, twenty-four panels were hung across two floors of the library.

Attention for the A Campus Divided was beyond anything we had experienced before, as thousands of people flocked to Andersen Library to view the exhibit. Not only did news coverage appear in nearly every local paper, but the opening event and talk was held to a sold out attendance. One portion of the exhibit invited people to share their thoughts and reflections with Post-it note comments. By the time the exhibit ended, 565 Post-it note comments were left by community members who wanted to share their feelings, both positive and negative.

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Post-it notes containing comments left by community members line the walls. Image courtesy University of Minnesota Libraries.

As voices surged to respond to what had been uncovered, University President Eric Kaler issued an official statement that addressed the exhibit and called for the creation of the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Committee on University History. The committee led to the formation of a Task Force on Building Names and Institutional History, which recently published a 126-page report on their findings. In it, the task force recommended that the Board of Regents change the name of four buildings on campus in light of their findings.  On April 26th, the Regents voted 10-1 against renaming despite vocal protests from both faculty and students.

The journey from small exhibit in the library to heated Board of Regents debates was, frankly, somewhat naively unforeseen on our end. If you are planning to take on such work in your college or university archives, here are some of my takeaway suggestions:

Set up an advisory group
From the offset, curator Riv-Ellen Prell knew to set up an advisory group for the exhibit. The advisory group, pulled from campus and community, were kept apprised of the ongoing research and offered suggestions and leadership as it became clear that the impact of the exhibit was far more expansive than expected. Use this type of group not only for support but also guidance on new avenues of research or clarity. Research is stronger with peer advisors.

Document document document
Like any strong project, keep meticulous records of your research. If the exhibit is controversial, people will question its findings. Keep track of the collection, box, and folder of not only every single item that is showcased in the exhibit, but also of the primary source documents that can be used to back up every single assertion in the exhibit. Do all of this work before the exhibit opens and collate that information in a concise document with clean, standardized citation layout. People will come for the receipts; be ready.

Allow critique
Critique of the findings of an exhibit such as this can and should happen. As with any sort of research, rebuttals or varied readings of your findings should be welcomed – this is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of a soliloquy. Plan community conversation events to let voices be heard.

Take Credit
A Campus Divided was mounted as an exhibit in Andersen Library as part of our regular exhibits lineup that showcases materials from Archives and Special Collections. Because of this, it was not always strongly branded as part of the University Libraries, nor did I as the archivist who mounted the exhibit add myself to the list of co-curators. As attention for the exhibit grew outside of the libraries and the university, these things fell to the wayside. None of the publicity included my name or role in the exhibit; I could have named myself co-curator but I did not. The work of our exhibit designer Darren Terpstra is also rarely mentioned. Make sure, from the start, that credits are clear, and that an exhibit is branded as part of the library if you hope to get credit for the work that you do.

Let go
That being said, let it go. After years of working on the exhibit, we had no idea how it would be received. There was no initial intention of pushing to change the names of buildings around campus, and yet this became the rallying cry from those who viewed the exhibit. Students became very energized–writing articles in the campus newspaper, staging protests, and demanding change. These students created life for the findings of the exhibit long after the exhibit itself was taken off the walls. You have no idea where the energy of such an exhibit will lead; it is wonderful when you let it go.

Know that timing might change the context
A Campus Divided happened to open only a few weeks after the events in Charlottesville, a time when many people were openly talking about institutionalized racism in the United States. Know that if your exhibit highlights racist history at your institution, current events or recently enacted policies might shine a further spotlight or give new context to the exhibit. There is nothing you can do to mitigate this, but be prepared for potential shifting attention.

The reverberations of the A Campus Divided exhibit are still being felt on campus. As I look back, what I tend to focus on was that the exhibit showcased the power of the archives. This exhibit illustrated perfectly how history, in particular primary source research conducted in the archives, can have a relevant and powerful impact on our present day. Conversations about the history of our institutions are undoubtedly tough and constantly ongoing, but these conversations are worth having if we hope to move forward as equitable and inclusive institutions.

A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anti-Communists, Racism, and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota, 1930-1942 is still available online – visit acampusdivided.umn.edu to learn more.


Kate Dietrick is the Archivist for the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries, a position she has held since March 2013. Prior to that time she worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art and for the Kress Foundation. She earned her MLIS from Pratt Institute and BA from St. Olaf College.