By Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
In 2014 a die-in happened at Kent State University. Black students laid outside of the university’s Student Center, in chalk outlines, some bearing signs “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” to draw attention to the national protest and discourse surrounding the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. On November 9, 2015, university president Tim Wolfe resigned from Missouri University, in the aftermath of pleas to address growing racial tensions that resulted in a hunger strike by a graduate student and the threat of another strike by the university’s football team. In December 2016, a group of demonstrators was arrested at Michigan State University as they expressed opposition to the arrival of Milo Yiannopoulos, an author, who is widely known for his controversial views on a range of topics from social justice, to feminism, to the LGBTQIA community. More than a year later, on September 5, 2017, nearly one hundred students at Case Western Reserve University banded together to amplify their concerns on the repeal of the Dreamer’s Act (Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals), impacting hundreds of thousands of immigrants. These social movements stem from a long, storied tradition of activism on college and university campuses around the country that can be traced back hundreds of years in some instances. But are these narratives of student protests about marginalized and often oppressed communities being routinely archived as part of the responsibilities of university archivists in the tradition of capturing and preserving the entire narrative of our academic institutions?
In the fall of 2016, I contacted Tamar Chute, the university archivist at Ohio State University. The goal was to make sure this idea wasn’t crazy and to flesh out an effort to centralize access to these narratives taking place throughout our nation’s academic organizations. One objective was to learn what types of challenges and successes academic repositories were facing in archiving the voices of students who remain in the margins, from Chicano/a, African American, Native American, differently abled, LGBTQIA, ethnic minorities, Latino/a, etc., and other historically marginalized groups. Chute and I discussed the potential benefit of a collaborative tool that could help fellow professionals build relationships with student organizations where none existed, as student organizations are often the custodians of such records. We also acknowledged that creating a tool to bring together resources held at institutions across geographical regions will elevate our resources and potentially drive more traffic to digital and analog collections that may currently be underutilized. In June of 2017, Project STAND (Student Activism Now Documented) was officially launched to address these questions and create a collaborative of folks ready to highlight their work, interrogate archival practices, pose ethical issues, and build a resource illuminating projects and collections on the frontlines.
Project STAND is an online clearinghouse where academic institutions can provide researchers a centralized access point to historical and archival documentation on the development and on-going occurrences of student dissent. Project STAND focuses on digital and analog primary sources that document the activities of student groups that represent the concerns of historically marginalized communities (e.g., African American, Chicano/a, LGBTQ, religious minorities, disabled, etc.). STAND will also highlight the work of others (e.g., faculty, staff, and administrators) who advocate for or support the interests of those communities.
The project was initially Ohio-based and partially inspired by the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) due to its data collection tools, but quickly began to incorporate institutions outside the state. This initiative now includes 40 participating institutions including Arizona State, AUC Woodruff Library, Chicago State, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Jackson State, Kent State, Miami University, Michigan State, Purdue, University of Iowa, South Carolina State, Wright State, University of Akron, University of California San Diego, and University of Rhode Island.
Participants complete a collection assessment sharing information on holdings that meet STAND’s objectives. So far, close to 200 surveys have been completed, and the early data shows 20 percent of the responses represent collections from 2000-present, while records that center on the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, Native Americans, and Disabled Rights are underrepresented. The project aims to continue building partnerships throughout 2018 with symposia and updates through STAND’s website. As we continue to drill down into the data submitted by participants, we seek to get a stronger image of student activism surrounding historically oppressed communities across geographical locations, and to not only interrogate our practices as archivists documenting more contemporary narratives, but also to ensure we have captured the social movements of our past.
This effort is emerging at a time when many organizations and scholars are making efforts to do a deep-dive into this area through expanding the scope of their collection development areas, digital initiatives, and exhibits, like Kent State’s Black Campus Movement Project, a collection development initiative to engage in outreach with alumni and current students to capture the history of black student activism, and eventually serve as a model to acquire records pertaining to other disenfranchised student populations, Princeton’s ASAP project capturing the activism of Princetonians on and off-campus, to UC San Diego’s How UC It: Living Archive, “an alternative way to highlight awareness, provide a space for dialogue, preserve and document events that have affected the UCSD campus climate socially and/or incidents that have targeted specific underrepresented group.” Groups such as the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) even hosted an online forum in January entitled A History of Student Activism.
STAND is providing a platform that will elevate collections addressing the growing needs of faculty, students, researchers, community members, and various stakeholders interested in the complex and richly diverse voices of their academic institutions. We are also creating a network of professionals who acknowledge and accept the challenge and rewards of documenting communities that are often forgotten but critical to unpacking and understanding our institutions and communities in which they reside. If you are interested in these issues, we would love to have you join us. Please send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lae’l Hughes-Watkins is the University Archivist, Assistant Professor at Kent State University. She is the founder of Project STAND and holds a position on SAA’s Appointments Committee. She holds an M.A in English from Youngstown State University and an MLIS from Kent State.