Project STAND: Documenting Student Activism from the Margins

By Lae’l Hughes-Watkins 

Students gather together outside in protest, 197?
Students gather together outside in protest, 1970. Image 01621 courtesy Case Western Reserve University Archives.

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.

Members of the Gay Illini student organization at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 1987. (RS 41/2/46, Courtesy University of Illinois Archives.)

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.

Admin Building Takeover
Black United Students (BUS) take over administration building , April 27, 1970. Courtesy of Lafayette Tolliver Collection. Kent State University Libraries. Special Collections and Archives.

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

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.

Do it! Be a Mentor!

By Greg Bailey

Bronze figures from the Cleveland Public Library’s Eastman Reading Garden, photo by Derek Oyen

For the last two years I have been a mentor in the SAA Mentoring Program.  This opportunity is one I encourage you to participate in, and one that I will continue to support and partake in.


I must admit, I had a little trepidation when I first decided to try the mentoring program with SAA.  I wanted to get more involved in the profession and with SAA and thought that the mentoring program would be a good place to start, but at the same time I was wondered whether I had enough experience to be a good mentor to a protégé.

Shortly after having an early conversation with my first protégé I knew that I could be a valuable mentor to her.  She was transitioning from a metadata position in the library she worked at to the university archivist and records manager at the same university.  My first job as an archivist was in a similar role and I was able to give advice on a number of issues she was facing when trying to get the positions in order.  My protégé attended the annual meeting at SAA and we were able to meet in person to continue our discussions about working to expand archival collections and how records management tied in with this.  I feel I was able to give some good guidance and support to an archivist who was just entering the profession and trying to revive both the university archives and records management programs at her institution.

This year marks my second in the mentoring program and I have a new protégé (per the program).  He is currently enrolled in an MLIS program and working toward completion of his degree.  We have had a number of good conversations through our time as mentor-protégé.  We have discussed classes both within his program and also ones offered by SAA; the importance of service and involvement in the profession balanced with education and other commitments; the dichotomy that sometimes arises between archival theory and what we practice.  My protégé has asked some good questions and I look forward to the time we have remaining in the program.

It is important to be a mentor to new grad students and new professionals as they look to those with experience and advice in a profession that is new to them. Think back to what it was like when you first started out: Would an experienced professional willing to answer questions and give advice have helped your transition?

Everyone has help along the way.  We don’t have all the answers, especially when starting out in a career.  Being a sounding board and offering advice can help others gain the understanding and confidence needed to succeed.  Being a mentor helps our profession and shows that we are a welcoming and knowledgeable group that is willing to be there for our colleagues.  So, I encourage you to be a mentor.

Greg Bailey is the University Archivist at Texas A&M University, a position he has help since January 2014.  Prior to that, he served at the University Archivist and Records Manager at Stephen F. Austin State University.  He is currently a member of the College and University Archives Section’s Steering Committee.  

Why be a mentor?

By Christina Zamon

During my time as an SAA member, I have had the honor and privilege of being a mentor for six protégés. Some of them were fleeting relationships, but a few have turned into long lasting friendships.

Why be a mentor?  Early in my career I asked that question, and thought I didn’t have enough experience to be a mentor … but I was wrong. Anyone can be a mentor regardless of how long you have been an archivist. Many colleagues seeking mentors are at a variety of points in their career, and can bring a different perspective to an issue a colleague is facing. Something as simple as moving from a government job to an academic job can feel like starting over. Sometimes a colleague is stuck in a rut and just needs some encouragement or a graduate student is seeking advice on what to expect when they graduate. I have been a mentor for colleagues in a variety of situations and have found it to be incredibly rewarding.

Recently I began reflecting on some of the people I have mentored over the years, and one stood out in particular. Back in 2011, I received an email from SAA asking if I would be willing to take on a second protégé. Since my current protégé wasn’t very active in seeking advice or keeping in touch, I agreed to take on one more. I found out that the person requesting a mentor was looking for a colleague in the Boston area so that she would have the chance to meet a regular basis. Once matched, we quickly set a time to meet each other for lunch. From the outset, it became apparent that she was looking for someone with experience at a higher level of supervision and management than what I had. My title led the matchmakers at SAA to believe that I was in charge of a staff, when really, I was a lone arranger. It turned out that we were peers rather than a typical mentor/protégé, but we decided to keep at it and formed a peer mentoring relationship. We met regularly, and after a few meetings with each other expanded our mentorship circle by adding another peer, and yet one more a few months later to form a four-person peer mentoring group within the span of a year. As a group, we met every few months for dinner after work to discuss issues we were having as mid-career archivists. We talked each other through tough decisions, gave advice, and made suggestions on how we could improve our individual situations or move on to a position that would take us to “the next level” in our careers. Not only did we all become close friends over the last five years, but three of us have moved into different positions to advance our careers as well, expanding our personal ambitions and goals.

This is just one example of how being a mentor has not only shaped my life, but the lives of other archivists in the profession by giving just a few hours each year to my protégés. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me, and one that has enriched both my life and career as an archivist. If you haven’t tried being a mentor, I strongly encourage you to become one. You may find that it was the best thing you’ve ever done, not only for yourself, but for others. Who knows, you may just make a few lifetime friends along the way.

Christina Zamon is the Head of Special Collections and University Archives at Georgia State University, a position she has held since September 2016. Prior to that time, she served as Head of Archives and Special Collections at Emerson College. She is the author of The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository. She is currently a member of the College and University Archives Section’s Steering Committee and previously served as chair of the section (2014-2015).